Best of Enemies comes out this week in the unfortunate position of following last year’s Green Book. Both feature pairings of white and black characters, the former needing to learn something from the latter amidst the largest Civil Rights Movement. Green Book was a financial success but came under significant criticism for presenting a too-simplistic portrait of the era and going too far in making the white person the hero of the story.
This week’s new release stars Taraji P. Henson as Ann Atwater, a civil rights activist in Durham, NC who goes head to head with Ku Klux Klan leader C. P. Ellis (Sam Rockwell) over school desegregation. The two are obviously on opposite sides of the issue, but over a decade of conflict the two form a grudging respect for each other.
“Change is worth fighting for” we’re told on the first poster, which shows the two main characters standing next to each other. It’s simple, selling the movie on the basis of the stars. The same copy is used on the second poster, but this time the characters are placed more at odds with each other, facing different directions and with more of a contrast in the lighting they’re given.
The story’s setting in 1971 Durham, NC is established at the outset of the first trailer, which opens with an elementary school burning because of an electrical fire. The need to find those kids somewhere to go to school opens up the issue of segregation in the area, as local white folks don’t want black kids mixing with their kids. Atwater and Ellis stand on opposite sides of the debate but are put together on a board to discuss options. The violence and anger on both sides is clear, but some of the extents the segregationists are willing to go to upsets even Ellis, who has begun to view Atwater as a human being.
Online and Social
There’s almost nothing on the movie’s official website, just the trailer, a synopsis and links to social profiles.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
A 30-second online ad featured not only clips from the movie but also Henson talking about her character and the story as a whole. The impact segregated schooling has on children and the reason the two leads are facing off against each other were communicated in a TV spot.
Media and Publicity
STX finally gave the movie an early 2019 release date late last year.
A featurette released in early March had the cast as well as the real people they portray in the movie talking about the events depicted and what the dynamic between the two main characters was and is. Another came out a few days later specifically to mark International Women’s Day, focusing on the real life women who inspired the story.
Atwater and Ellis square off with guns and Bibles in a clip released last week.
Rockwell showed up on “The Tonight Show” to talk about working with Henson and the movie in general. While it was mostly about other upcoming projects, this movie was mentioned in a profile of the actor. There was also attention given to Henson, who used this cycle to open up about the anxiety and depression she deals with. Most of the press about the actress, though, focused on her reaction to what’s happening with her “Empire” costar Jussie Smollett or was focused on her series “The Last OG” with Tracy Morgan.
What a missed opportunity to really educate the audience about an important historical moment. While the featurettes and some of the other clips and ads feature background on Atwater’s struggle to overcome systemic racism, there’s no background on the real events that inspired the movie on the website, not even a link elsewhere.
You can’t go wrong with Henson in a drama like this, but the way things are presented raises the concern that once again we’re getting a movie that wants to humanize the racists and sell the idea that just talking to them is the key to everyone getting along. That’s all well and good and certainly non-violence is preferable, but given the current social atmosphere presenting a decade of dialogue as the best possible outcome to hatred, we’re not in great shape.
Picking Up the Spare
A new spot debuted that was made specifically for the podcast “Pod Save America.”
The movie’s filmmakers spoke about wanting to remain true to the real story, but it has come under a lot of criticism for what are seen as efforts to rehabilitate a racist Klan leader, which is problematic.