Who saw this coming? Everyone who understands what makes many movie critics operate, that’s who.
“This” refers to film scribes skewering “The Best of Enemies,” a film recreating a remarkable true story set in Durham, N.C. circa 1971.
The film stars Taraji P. Henson and Sam Rockwell as a black activist and Klan leader, respectively. Their characters clash over a proposed integration project but end up finding they have more in common than they thought.
It’s racial healing 101. On paper, it sounds like the kind of message we need in our increasingly volatile age -- even if it’s 48 years old.
Naturally, critics are welcome to love, or hate a film for all sorts of reasons.
- Poor direction
- Inane plotting
- False emotional notes
- Shoddy screenwriting
What we’re seeing with the collective “Enemies” bashing is different. It’s part of a larger trend involving stories about racial healing. That seemingly wonderful notion isn’t always welcome in critical circles. Just ask the folks who skewered “Green Book” and “The Mule” on similar grounds.
The LA Times’ Katie Walsh brings the race of the film’s director into the equation.
Robin Bissell makes his directorial debut with the film based on the book “The Best of Enemies: Race and Redemption in the New South” by Osha Gray Davidson. The book, written by a white man, was both adapted for the screen and directed by a white man, and therein lies the perspective problem — the very uneven story is weighted heavily toward the journey of the redeemed Klansman in the equation….
Perhaps a Klan member’s radical transformation is a more compelling storyline?
Later, she decries the fact that the film didn’t focus enough on the oh, so toxic American way of life.
Bissell offers up the kind of easy-to-digest pablum that provides emotional catharsis and a safe space for white liberals to tut disapprovingly at racism, a performative display of allyship, but it never pushes anyone to question their own role within — and personal benefit from — a society steeped in white supremacy and class inequalities.
Now how in the wide world of sports would a movie do that? And wouldn’t that stray just a bit from the story in play?
Over at BirthMoviesDeath.com, the site’s critic (who loathed “Green Book”) uncorks this bizarre summary:
Based on true events as this may be, the way in which those events are framed and presented still matters, and this comes dangerously close to saying that it is the responsibility of victims of institutional bigotry and violence to use kindness as their primary and possibly sole means of defense and social change.
The RogerEbert.com critic calls “Enemies” another “white savior” film — even though, once again, it’s the black character who redeems the white racist’s soul.
Regardless, I cannot believe that, in 2019, I have to review a movie where my latest White savior is the same guy who’d put a noose on my neck and hang me from the nearest tree. Yes, in real life Ellis did see the error of his ways and change. But it damn sure didn’t happen the way this film presents it. In fact, Ellis’ big, stand-up-and-cheer Klan membership card-tearing speech makes absolutely no sense in the context of this narrative.
That card-shredding event actually happened. Plus, Bill Riddick, the man who helped bring the opposing parties together in Durham, stood by the film’s general accuracy. Then again, what does the man at the heart of the actual story really know?
Slate.com called the film “Hollywood’s latest fantasy of racial reconciliation.”
Again, it’s worth nothing the film is based on a true story, hardly the stuff of “fantasies.” Naturally, the director’s race is brought up as a slam.
For the record, I don’t think writer-director Robin Bissell (I’ll save you the Google search—he’s a white man) believes the KKK was a greater danger to white liberals than to black people.
TheWrap.com goes to DefCon 1 with its “Enemies” review. It starts with a silly straw man argument:
For the last several years, Hollywood films have been trying to convince us that race relations in the United States can be resolved if 1) a black man goes on a road trip with a racist white man, 2) a white Nazi falls in love with a black German girl, or 3) a black domestic worker bakes a pie made out of feces for her racist employer.
Next, the critic brings up the serially debunked attack against President Donald Trump.
But the way the film implores its audience to see the humanity of both Ann’s allies and the Klansmen reflects a cringeworthy image of Donald Trump saying, in the aftermath of the 2017 white nationalist protest in Charlottesville, that there were “some very fine people on both sides.” It’s reductive, despite the film’s claims to the contrary.
Ignore the Fake News part of this snippet. Why can’t we see the humanity in Rockwell’s character? Isn’t that what movies are all about, showing the layers of a person’s soul?
Modern liberals wrapped their arms around the late Democrat Robert Byrd, the West Va. senator had his own, personal Ku Klux Klan connection.
As the “Exalted Cyclops” of the KKK, Mr. Byrd recruited more than 100 people to join his chapter and warned in a letter against America becoming “degraded by race mongrels, a throwback to the blackest specimen from the wilds.”
Ellis also served under the title “Exalted Cyclops.”
Yet Atwater opened her heart wide enough to let a bigot like Ellis in. A decades-long friendship sprang from her decency, and a man’s soul got saved in the process.
That’s worth a standing ovation all on its own.
Weeks before “The Best of Enemies” hit theaters this site, sadly, predicted the exact reaction the film’s storyline would evoke. Plenty of film critics assessed the film on its own merits. Others, like the aforementioned critics, brought their own baggage to the task at hand.