The Best of Enemies (2019) Poster

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6/10
a feel good look at a moment in history
ferguson-65 April 2019
Greetings again from the darkness. It's easy to complain (and many do) about how Hollywood usually explores racism. Sometimes the stories seem a bit over-simplistic, as with THE HELP, GREEN BOOK, and HIDDEN FIGURES; however, rather than criticize, perhaps we should be thankful for any effort to prod. Often getting the conversation started is the best first step. That's really the message from Robin Bissell's directorial debut of a script he adapted from Osha Gray Davidson's 1996 book "The Best of Enemies: Race and Redemption in the New South". Mr. Bissell has previously been Executive Producer on THE HUNGER GAMES and SEABISCUIT, and Mr. Davidson's book was previously adapted for a stage production.

Based on a true story that took place in 1971 Durham, North Carolina, the film portrays the remarkable events that led to the integration of public schools and a stranger-than-fiction friendship. Taraji P Henson stars as Ann Atwater, an African-American activist and community organizer, while Sam Rockwell co-stars as Claiborne "CP" Ellis, the Exalted Cyclops (basically the Chapter President) of the Ku Klux Klan. It seems the previous stranger-than-fiction description is aptly applied here when an aggressive black woman known as "Roughhouse Annie" can effectively sway the long ingrained beliefs of a KKK leader, and forge a friendship that would last 3 decades.

A school fire that partially gutted the elementary school attended by the black children in the community was the proverbial spark that kicked off the chain of events. When the white folks refused to share their school, the black children were forced to hold classes in the areas least affected by the fire ... while demolition and renovation was being carried out. This led to the NAACP getting involved, which resulted in a judge ordering a "Charrette" - a blend of a committee and a civic debate - to determine how the community would move forward. Bill Riddick (Babou Ceesay, FREE FIRE, 2016) was charged with organizing the Charrette, and he named Ms. Alexander and Mr. Ellis as co-chairs. Keep in mind this was 17 years after Brown vs. Board of Education ruled in favor of school desegregation, but many pockets of the south were slow to come around.

The story structure offers synchronicity between the lives of Alexander and Ellis, as they each struggle with poverty and family challenges. It's just one of the ways of trying to show they were more alike than different, and much more of the time is devoted to how the transition slowly occurs for Ellis. Of course, even though each side dislikes the other, it's Ellis whose eyes must be opened as he clings to the only way of life he's known. Because of this, Mr. Rockwell has the meatier role, but it's Ms. Henson (and her fat suit) who draws the most laughs and nods of approval from the audience.

As you would expect, it's a strutting Mr. Rockwell and boisterous Ms. Henson that dominate the film, however, some tremendous actors fill the supporting roles: Wes Bentley (as a Confederate soldier hat-wearing Klansman), Anne Heche (as Ellis' wife), Nick Searcy, Bruce McGill, John Gallagher Jr, and Caitlin Mehner.

The film is a most entertaining (though a bit lightweight) look at an historic chain of events, and it's right up there with a black cop infiltrating the Klan in Spike Lee's 2018 film BLACKkKlansman for believe-it-or-not points. In 1980, Studs Terkel conducted an interview with Mr. Ellis, and it's worth a read to gain a bit more insight into a man that truly changed his evil ways. The ending of this film leans heavily on the "feel-good" and "can't we all just get along" approach, and maybe that's not such a bad thing. The end credit sequence features some tremendous clips of the real Ms. Alexander (who died in 2016) and Mr. Ellis (who died in 2005), making it a bit easier to understand how the two opposites connected for the greater good.
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7/10
Clunky at times but ultimately affecting
DrewzQuickReviewz5 April 2019
A solid supporting cast and fantastic set and costume design help create a town that feels utterly authentic to the time and place. Predictability and issues with pacing and balance are swept aside by an incredible true story bolstered by strong performances from Sam Rockwell and Taraji P. Henson. It's a little graceless and heavy handed in its delivery at certain points but the final product is a genuine, relevant and touching film.
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9/10
Watching how two people can learn to understand and tolerate each other.
kas8238 April 2019
I will attempt not to have spoilers- but beware- I will be specific. I thought it would be hard to find sympathy for the head of a local group of the Klu Klux Klan, and yet, this film pulled it off. Not because I believe in beliefs and tactics of the KKK (as a liberal former Catholic woman with Jewish friends- oh, no, indeed). Rather because I gained an understanding of the mindset of poor working men in the South for whom seeing the true enemy (the powers in the community (white, male power brokers)) would have been dangerous. The acting in this film was superb with special kudos to Taraji P. Henson who in her wordless scenes expresses the reality of her character's history and the hardships she endures for a cause bigger than herself. I know this sounds like the film is didactic- but it isn't. It is a mini-history lession and one that I thoroughly enjoyed.
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9/10
Two Thumbs Up
Armando-Baltimore13 April 2019
Incredible movie. If you consider yourself an American, this is a must see. There is so much rich history in the American culture that has not been part of main stream media until now. The script forces you to find empathy for each of the main characters, no matter what your background. This was a challenging role for Taraji, whereas the role of Ann Atwater could have been easily type cast for Octavia Spencer. Some of the bits that Sam Rockwell brought to the role of CP Ellis were almost comical, but well in-character. Unlike the Green Book which had several awesome moments, this movie was suspenseful and interesting from start to finish. I am looking forward to the next work directed by Robin Bissell.
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7/10
Worth your time
jaynekranc15 April 2019
I actually had friends puzzled that I wanted to see this, because they told me it was a movie just for black people. It's worth seeing just to understand exactly how dumb that kind of comment is. The performances are outstanding. I love "based on true events" films anyway, and understand their limitations, so maybe I"m biased, but I think this is an important film..The sets captured that small town feel in the past south perfectly. Is it heavy handed at times? Sure, but it really shows how both characters changed their minds. I"m sorry it's not doing better. I missed seeing it last weekend and this weekend there were only two showings of it at my theater and expect it to be gone next week.
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9/10
A beautiful friendship
NirupamDhakal8 April 2019
Warning: Spoilers
This movie follows Ann Atwater (Taraji P. Henson), a civil rights activist in Durham, North Carolina, who battles with the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) leader C. P. Ellis (Sam Rockwell) for a decade until 1971, when the two agree to co-chair a two-week community meeting to deal with a court-ordered school desegregation decree, which changes both of their lives.

Since last year, we have seen movies about the start of a friendship between a white and a black person (Green Book). While this movie is also about the friendship between two main characters, this movie is nothing like Green Book. Green Book was problematic, focusing on the 'white savior' trope whilst this movir has a fleshed out narrative with both the character being their own person. And guess what, both of them save each other. She saves him from his racist mindset and he saves her and the black community by learning acceptance.

The best thing about this movie is the acting. Powerhouse performances by Taraji P. Henson and Sam Rockwell. They bring out the emotions and the human-ness in this real life personalities. But mostly, I have to commend Taraji, she steals whatever scenes she is in. Also, Anne Heche, no matter how little she is on screen, is brilliant. Also, the direction and the production design of this movie is fantastic. I love all tghe 70s costume and the makeup in this film.

My only complaint has to be that there's more emphasis on C.P. Ellis than on Ann Atwater. I agree that the story is about how he comes into term with acceptance but given the powerful performance by Taraji, I wanted more of her. In the end, you are left with wanting more of her.

Altogether, this is a beautiful film and I am happy with the story and the portrayal of an interracial friendship than I ever was with Green Book.
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10/10
Moving Story
jjortega-198346 April 2019
Warning: Spoilers
If not based on a true story, I would of said this could never happen. Truly an uplifting story of how deep, ingrained hatred can be overcome.
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6/10
Good...not great
darkraven-559088 April 2019
Soo I enjoyed this film and I was really looking forward to it, but it left me wanting more. Taraji and Sam were both great and the supporting class was awesome but... I was drawn to this film not necessarily for another civil rights film, but to see the relationship between these two characters grow from overflowing discourse to compromise to friendship. I didn't see that. I saw a few side bar comments and one or two cross words but mostly this film showed a man struggling to let go of his anger and hatred for a race he really didn't understand under the cloud of civil rights and the blistering speeches of those around him albeit including Ann Atwater. I just felt that the friendship between these two Star-crossed souls played by two remarkable actors, would've been more entertaining to watch than just another civil rights film. But it was a good story it just wasn't the story I was expecting.
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9/10
Rich, Substantive, Moving. Go See It!
Danusha_Goska7 April 2019
"Best of Enemies" is a great movie and you should go see it. It's getting mediocre reviews, and that's disgusting. So many of us yearn for thoughtful, substantive, adult films. "Best of Enemies" is just that, and critics are attacking it because it isn't radical enough for them. Defy these losers. Go see "Best of Enemies."

It's 1971 in Durham, North Carolina. C. P. (Claiborne Paul) Ellis (Sam Rockwell) is the Exalted Cyclops of the local KKK. Ann Atwater (Taraji P. Henson) is a black activist trying to get decent housing for black people. A black school burns and blacks petition to attend the local, white school. Black activist Bill Riddick (Babou Ceesay) comes to town to organize a charrette. No, I'd never heard of a charrette, either. It's a French thing. People with opposing viewpoints are organized into discussion groups with a strictly imposed deadline. They must vote in a supermajority to approve any proposal.

C. P. Ellis' Klan is shown violently menacing white women. This is interesting because one justification offered for the Klan's existence was its purported protection of white women from black men. Ellis and his crew shoot up a house inhabited by a woman with a black boyfriend. In another scene, Klan members threaten a white female charrette participant to make sure that she won't vote for blacks to enter the white school.

Ellis' change is subtle and slow. There are no crashing music epiphany scenes. The movie is grounded in gritty day-to-day interactions, like Riddick compelling Atwater and Ellis to eat a school cafeteria meal together.

The entire cast is excellent. The production values are high. Clothes, cars, the songs on the soundtrack, evoke 1971 in the South. One drawback. Making a charrette dynamic drama is a challenge, one the director doesn't quite rise to. Some exposition scenes do drag. "1776" made the writing of the Declaration of Independence very dramatic, and "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" and "Twelve Angry Men" made a filibuster and jury deliberations dramatic. I wish director Robin Bissell had taken a cue from these films.

The African Americans in the film are all saintly; most of the whites are sweat-stained, racist wretches or too cowardly to live up to their anti-segregation beliefs. It's patronizing to depict African Americans as flawless. We know that that era included hate and violence on all sides, including white-on-white (Viola Liuzzo and Jim Zwerg) and black-on-black (The Black Panthers and Malcolm X).

Further, the film fudges Ellis' Road-to-Damascus moment. "Best of Enemies" depicts Atwater showing small kindnesses to Ellis. The cinematic Ellis concludes that blacks are not inferior. In fact, though, Ellis' own memoir, he talks about growing up poor and being ashamed of being poor. He worked hard and could not get ahead. He was bitter and resentful and looking for someone to blame. The Klan encouraged him to blame blacks, not rich whites. As a Klansman, Ellis rubbed shoulders with wealthier whites. Outside of Klan meetings, though, those rich whites would cross the street to avoid him. Ellis concluded that desegregation would ultimately be best for poor and working class whites. None of Ellis' class struggle makes it into the movie. Hollywood has a hard time talking about poor whites.

There is a very handsome, very scary Klansman in a small part. I didn't remember seeing that actor in anything before "Best of Enemies." I made a mental note to google him. Darned if it isn't Wes Bentley, who made such a splash in 1999's "American Beauty." After that success, Bentley became a heroin addict. He's back to acting now. We wish him all the best. He has the star power to fill the screen. I found his Klansman genuinely scary.
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2/10
Laughable
suspence852616 April 2019
As a POC I found this movie to be over the top. The Democrats in this movie were made our to be like the scary monsters under the bed. Im all in favor of pushing anti white propaganda, but this movie was just plain laughable. Henson was over the top and unbelievable. Oprah would have been a better choice or Tyler Perry. 2 thumbs down and one black fist up. BLACK POWER!
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8/10
A realistic portrayal of racial tension, not fantasy land garbage
M_Exchange5 April 2019
I know that the majority of critics are liberals, so when I read many (not most, but many) of their reviews I knew that they had abandoned their supposed "love trumps hate" credo to bash Trump and assert that all straight white men who behave in the manner in which Sam Rockwell's character behaves in this film are irredeemable Emperor Palpatine types, not Darth Vader types who have traces of goodness that can grow. It's the new painfully moronic SJW version of "tolerance": if it's a redemption story that doesn't fit a Disney-like fantasy world template within their insulated world then it should not exist.

I lived in North Carolina for four years during the late '90s, so I can puncture yet another myth that is floating in their vacant heads: non-whites there aren't all angelic; there are pockets of black people there who are almost as bigoted as the Rockwell character-- people for whom such critics would have much more tolerance. But in the case of this film, we are discussing the fundamental right of parents of all races to provide decent schooling for their children. So the Rockwell character is wrong about this issue and many more; the Taraji Henson character is right.

When Henson and Rockwell are involved in anything you that the acting is going to be spectacular, and they did not disappoint in this film. Henson seemed as assertive yet likeable as her late, real life counterpart, and Rockwell did a brilliant job of showing us that his character was a desperate yet otherwise intelligent and even likeable man who needed someone to pull him out of the darkness of his past.

I can't state enough just how much I disagree with this film's "rotten" rating. Several people were audibly crying in my theater. It was very moving. They also nailed the realism of the period piece clothing and the gross-looking Southern food.

My only complaint about it: I know that when films are set in the South they are deliberately slow paced, and I can appreciate that quality. However, I watched several scenes during which I personally wanted to cut at least a minute out of them.
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9/10
Phenomenal Performances
deezoellick17 April 2019
In an age where stories that focus on racial tensions in the US tend to be either oversimplified and/or propogandistic, this truth-based story hits a grand slam home run. Henson and Rockwell both deserve Oscar nods for their electric performances, and the writing is spot on. My only issue with it would be that while the story really took its time to show Rockwell's character as a three dimensional human being with vulnerabilities, flaws (obviously), and attributes, it did not do this on the same level with Henson's character, who left me feeling like I barely got a glimpse of her life as a mother and activist. But all in all, well worth a few hours in a theater.
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8/10
Captivating Messages and Storytelling
rannynm6 April 2019
The Best of Enemies has some truly captivating messages and storytelling, but its presentation of the segregation debate can get lost with the lack of background insight. Still, the excellent performances here carry over some of the weaker writing. Anyone interested in docu-dramas might want to check this out.

The film centers on the most unlikely relationship between Ann Atwater (Taraji P. Henson), an outspoken civil rights activist, and C.P. Ellis (Sam Rockwell), a local Ku Klux Klan leader. The two reluctantly battle over the desegregation of schools in Durham, NC during the one of the nation's racially-charged turning points. C.P. slowly feels drawn towards Atwater's commitment to her people and becomes a frenemy. Can love trump hate?

First, Taraji P. Henson, is fantastic as Ann Atwater with her acerbic nature, but heartfelt fight for the poor and oppressed. She respectfully handles the rebellious, yet kind-hearted nature of the real-life figure. But, the drama's center comes from Sam Rockwell, as C.P. Ellis, who is my favorite character despite playing an initially despicable figure. His redemption is naturally done, and the messages never feel forced here. The two really work well off each other, and their chemistry is hilarious to watch. Babou Ceesay, as Bill Riddick, gives another great performance with his contributions to the segregation debate being another interesting learning experience.

Robin Bussell spectacularly writes and directs with the events presented in a clear, chronological order. But the pacing can be lost amongst this, as the film really stalls when juggling multiple real-life figures. It's the individual moments that stick, because she knows how to write human and relatable characters. The racial tension feels real here, as did the moments of unity. My favorite scene is the final verdict as the scene is filmed so well, leaving the audience unnerved at each person's decision. Still, it's C. P.'s monologue that sells the scene, which I just can't spoil. Seeing is believing. However, in addition to many moments of rocky pacing, the movie's focus on other characters, especially Atwater, is quite minimal and scattershot at times. C. P.'s development is forefront and that's understandable given he is the most complex character. I would have loved to see more personal looks at other characters.

The message of this film is that love is the greatest asset in any debate. We can all learn to reconcile our difference and just love each other. I give this film 4 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 10 to 18 due to mature themes and racist language.

Reviewed by Arjun N., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic. For more reviews by youth, visit kidsfirst dot org.
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6/10
. "2 thumbs up (Siskel & Ebert) - review# 97
jjgarza_jr22 April 2019
Some pure oil is always hard to come buy. Big ups to the line of vehicles portraying a good sign gesture & restore or begin to restore prior history. Business seems to be booming when only ½ of this population uses gas. This business owner & his family is about experience changing times with a different outcome. The phone call with one of her attendees means it is all business & no excuses. Show up & show out. Being a teenage mother doesn't stop this wave as the after video of your truly. She looks to mean all well with her new friend. "Characters don't seem cardboard robots moving from 1 scene to the next" - Robert Ebert). Good touch with keeping story & overall negative cloud to be determined a success. Right before sat down in seat f3 couple next to was very nice & complemented set up (popcorn & drink) & boudins "good bread, for good people, at a fair price" "papa Steve" Stefano Etienne giraudo (1933-1997). After move was asked how would I rate movie by the wife with her husband responded with good intentions. A conversation after & exchange of info later about how current situation is nice compared to these with the timeline. Ann Atwater was the driving force behind a lot of housing issues with these Durham folk. The solid stand that took place was one for the ages. A Charrete was chosen by local judge. With this new & improving transition, schools are now needing more attention as new classes are filling up. With resources slim to none, effort calls for some Operation breakthrough management. Local authorities begin to realize this issue remains on the table. Bill Riddick has some major land mines to avoid to speak. He is prepared as the overall peace begins anew for books to rewrite. "...Until then, the balcony is closed" (Siskel & Ebert)

Garza Car Club Frida Cinema. Santa Ana, Orange County, ca
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6/10
Great acting in a familiar frame that Hollyweird loves
trimblair13 April 2019
It is refreshing that Hollyweird has to go back 50 years for racism films. This is a 1960s KKK flick with great acting. Both the leads are outstanding and getting their inner struggle across to the audience. Rockwell is always stealing scenes. The Academy eats this stuff up so expect to see it up for best movie: black victim and white man is evil, black victim overcomes, lots of racism -- if they had a child with a disease or a gay dude it would have been a guaranteed winner: see GREEN BOOK, KKKlansman, 12 YEARS, etc.
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7/10
Predictable
drjgardner5 April 2019
This film is predictable from beginning to end, but that doesn't mean it is without some good qualities, including excellent acting from the two principals and a good re-creation of the era and the location. I'm not sure the music worked and the photography was pretty pedestrian. But the story was great and apparently based on some truth. Wait for the end of the film when the real characters are given some screen time.
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10/10
Black Savior Complex
pioneer647 April 2019
It is nice to see a film that features black people saving the day instead of the dreaded Hollywood White Savior Complex. Wonderful film. Give Taraji her Oscar!
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9/10
A very fine movie
richard-17875 April 2019
There have been a series of movies lately on race relations here in the U.S. during the 1950s and 60s, among them the Oscar-winner *Green Book* and *BlackKKlansman*. I think this movie trumps them all. The acting is first-rate, the main characters are actually given time and room to grow and change, rather than just remain two-dimensional stereotypes. One previous reviewer found the pacing slow; I certainly did not.

Near the end of the movie, CP's speech, which is very moving, comes somewhat out of left field, in that we had not previously seen the character speak with anything like that eloquence. Still, that's a very small nit, one that in no way detracts from the very real emotional power of this movie.

I strongly recommend it.
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7/10
Thought Provoking and Interesting
stevendbeard22 April 2019
Warning: Spoilers
I saw "The Best of Enemies", starring Taraji P. Henson-Empire_tv, Proud Mary; Sam Rockwell-Vice, Poltergeist_2015; Babou Ceesay-Into the Badlands_tv, Rogue One:A Star Wars Story and Bruce McGill-Rizzoli & Isles_tv, Animal House. This movie is based on a true story about a civil rights battle in North Carolina in 1971. It was basically between Taraji, a civil rights activist, and Sam, a Cyclops in the Ku Klux Klan, but there were others involved, too. School integration was the hot topic of the day and after a fire destroys a black school, things get even hotter. Taraji spearheads a movement to integrate the children into the white school but Sam and his friends are totally against it. Bruce plays the local councilman that doesn't want change but tries to keep his beliefs hidden. He is more worried about votes. Babou is a problem solver from out of town that comes to try and settle things with a Charrette. I've never heard of a Charrette but from what I can gather, it is where people from both sides have discussions and try to work things out, verbally, without resorting to violence. During the end credits, you see the actual people and hear what happened to them. It's rated "PG-13" for racial epithets, violence and some suggestive material and has a running time of 2 hours & 13 minutes. It is thought provoking and an interesting story but I don't think I would buy it on DVD-once was enough. It would be a good rental, though.
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7/10
Way better than Greenbook.
subxerogravity18 April 2019
So the fact that this movie came out in April means its chances of getting nominated for an Oscar are slim, which is tragic. I feel like this story about two people from completely different worlds that hate each other coming together through communication (with a slight push), is more insightful than what Greenbook Sam Rockwell gave a stellar performance in this movie. I think it's similar to what Ed Norton did in American History X so long ago. I loved Teraiji P. Hensen in this one as well. What a great combo of actors going on here. It's a very uplifting and heart warming story, but at the same time it's real. Does not feel like magic happen, only understanding. This should be what the academy is looking at.
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8/10
"This is a very nice movie - it promotes inter-racial friendship while showing a true story
svhot10 April 2019
Warning: Spoilers
"The Best of Enemies" is based on the true biographical stories of C.P. Ellis (played by Sam Rockwell), and Ann Atwater (played by Taraji Henson). C.P. Ellis was a leader of a local subgroup of the Ku Klux Klan in Durham, North Carolina and Ann was a civil rights activist for African-Americans in the 1960s and 1970s.

First of all, I have to give my two thumbs up for the powerful performances by Sam Rockwell and Taraji Henson. Both have played their characters with full intensity and honesty ; this is what makes this movie worth watching again and again. Anne Heche has also given a genuinely good performance in the brief role that she got.

The director of this movie is the real hero here. Every scene and every actor's performance has been handled brilliantly. It is a very difficult task to direct a movie that is a biography and / or true story. Everything has to look and feel authentic. The director has got most things right. The costume design is almost perfect. The environment and culture of that era has also been presented accurately, and looks and feels authentic. Some people may complain about predictability issues, but they must remember the fact that it is based on a true story.

In the end, C.P. Ellis is able to change his racist mindset due to Ann Atwater's efforts, and he saves Ann and the African-American community from being victimized by racists. That was what happened and that's exactly what has been presented. However, it is the stuff that happens in between the beginning and the end that will really intrigue viewers.
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10/10
This was really good
LadiesMan31522 April 2019
It has a wonderful cast with good acting and a powerful message. Everyone needs to see this.
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10/10
Best movie
duchess-2838320 April 2019
Ms Henson knocked it out of the park on this one. At the end the movie patrons stood up and clapped. Excellent job to Ms Henson and her actors
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10/10
He'll get used to it.
nogodnomasters8 May 2019
Warning: Spoilers
In 1971 C.P. Ellis (Sam Rockwell-ignore the pierced ear) was the president of the Klan in Durham, N.C. He blocked everything the black community was attempting to accomplish with the help of a white town council. Ann Atwater (Taraji P. Henson and not Octavia Spencer) is a leader of the black community struggling to survive. A school fire forces the issue of school integration on the community. Bill Riddick (Babou Ceesay) is called in to have a charrette, a form of arbitration, to decide the issue. People on the opposite side of the issue are forced together to come to a conclusion.

The word "Committee" is misspelled. Perhaps by design. In Augusta, Ga. the city council still says "edumacation" instead of education.

The film was well acted and the script was well written. I was confused (and still confused) as to why this had to happen. All schools were forced to integrate from the 1955 ruling so it was inevitable. A win for the segregationists would have just have been a delay. This was never mentioned. What is interesting is that the phrase "Know your enemy." The Klan admitted they knew nothing about black people. It was Ann's knowledge of C.P. Chase's family that gave her the upper hand. Heartwarming, inspirational, and timely.

Guide: No swearing, sex, or nudity.
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8/10
Great acting
ilovefoodcoma2 May 2019
Both Taraji Henson and Sam Rockwell have done an excellent job portraiting the characters. This is a true story. It is very touching to see how they turned from enemies and became life time friends. The script was well written. It was sad to see how serious discrimination was in the past and appreciate what the history has changed to.
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