Currently on Netflix.
Robin Bissell writes and directs this film based upon the true events that occurred in Durham, North Carolina, during 1971. After a fire at a local black school it forces the issue of school integration to the top of the agenda. With an all white local council and racism and racial tensions still very much part of Durham life it needed radical change. This came with the setting up of a “charrette” a series of town wide meetings to bring together the community to understand their differences and find solutions. Hosted by Bill Riddick (Babou Ceesay) he needed co-chairs and selects Ann Atwater (Taraji P. Henson) a local black activist and C.P. Lewis (Sam Rockwell) the president of the local Klu Klux Klan. The film focuses on that process and the development of what would become a life long friendship between Atwater and Lewis.
The true life events behind this story are fascinating. To do this by putting together a black activist and leader of the local Klan as co-chairs feels doomed to fail. What the real story leads to was not only a change in the ingrained views of a white supremacist, but also across both black and white communities the realisation that the poor in society had common enemies which had nothing to do with colour, which feels a most prescient message.
The disappointment here is that this film doesn’t capture that fascination anywhere near well enough. It’s not a terrible film at all and the story itself as well as good performances keep you interested. But the type of film you think you are going to get, is exactly the one you do.
Oddly in a film that is nearly 2 1/4 hours long, it feels it never builds enough on the central characters. We don’t see enough of the life of Atwater, we know she’s a firebrand, but we don’t know what made her who she is. In Lewis we see someone who makes a huge decision that changes his life, but he seems go get there too easily. And as is seemingly often the case in stories like this, it is told very much from the point of the white protagonist and his change.
That’s not to say there aren’t things to like here and it is better these stories are told than not. The performances are good with Rockwell as you’d expect and Henson very watchable and keep you engaged. But the storytelling is very paint by numbers and predictable.
It’s certainly no write off, the story itself and the concept of what was attempted is fascinating and does maintain interest. It just feels that there is a really interesting telling of this story to be done, it just isn’t done here.