After starring in 2016’s biographical drama Hidden Figures, Taraji P. Henson is back with another cinematic history lesson for the ages in Best of Enemies. Based on the 1996 non-fiction book by Osha Gray Davidson, Best of Enemies tells the story of civil rights activist Ann Atwater (Henson) and her fight to integrate schools in Durham, North Carolina, in 1971, despite the passing of Brown vs Board of Education in 1954.
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Sam Rockwell reprises his perennial villain role as local KKK leader C.P. Ellis, a gas station owner and father of four who was tapped by the racist White Citizens Council to represent them in the community meeting, or charrette, to decide on allowing Black students to attend a white school. Inevitably, Ellis and Atwater clash, but find out that they must find common ground in order to get what they want for their children.
To prepare for her role as Ann Atwater, Taraji listened to and watched many interviews to capture her spirit and feistiness. As for her look, Taraji didn’t have to do too much.
“We didn’t do prosthetics. I just wore a fat suit,” says Taraji. “Yeah. I actually went on vacation and tanned to get darker. Everybody was like, ‘Why does her skin look dark?’ You know Black people tan? Like, the sun effects us all in the same way. You know?”
Bill Riddick, who is played by Babou Ceesay in the film, was the mediator for the integration meetings and shared his recollections of the real Atwater with BET.com.
“I learned quickly that she was going to speak before she thought about it,” he says. “Sometimes I enjoyed that because you get the real truth… I had my own biases. I didn’t like either one of them. When I say that, I don’t mean that there was anything in my heart that had hatred in it, but I did not appreciate the ground they stood on because it was so absolute and so ungiving, until I thought it might be a real, real miracle if they didn’t kill each other.”
Thankfully, they did not kill each other, and audiences can watch their historic story unfold in Best of Enemies, in theaters Friday, April 5.
Photo Credit: STX Films