Last week, my daughter and I did something we have never done before. We went to see not one, but two movies at two different theaters in one day. I needed a break.
Between caregiving, assuming too many leadership roles, and hearing about too many disheartening events in our world, this retired woman grew
The first was The Best of Enemies, based on a true story chronicled in the book The Best of Enemies: Race and Redemption in the New South by Osha Gray Davidson.
The movie opens with Ann Atwater (played by Taraji P. Henson) advocating for better housing among working-class African Americans. She’s a single mother, an assertive civil rights activist, and a force to be reckoned with.
It continues by featuring C.P. Ellis. Taught by his father to hate black people, Claiborne Paul Ellis (played by Sam Rockwell) serves as the Exalted Cyclops of the Durham, North Carolina Ku Klux Klan. An uneducated and economically-disadvantaged white man, he grew disillusioned with the so-called American Dream. But he found respect and a sense of belonging in the KKK. He began a youth group to indoctrinate them with KKK teachings.
In 1971, a fire in the black school raised the issue of court-ordered school desegregation. Fearing violence, the city council hired Bill Riddick to organize a series of community meetings (called a Charrette) charged with solving the problem. Riddick needed a representative-of-the-city steering committee with two strong co-chairs. It was no small task to convince Ann Atwater and C.P. Ellis to serve as co-chairs. The movie focuses on the miracle that occurred over the ten days of meetings.
These two enemies came to see how the other had been exploited by the South’s rigid power structure, and they forged a friendship that flourished against a backdrop of unrelenting bigotry.
What a heartwarming movie!
After the morning movie, we stopped at the pet store for food for Kiko. No time for lunch
We hightailed it downtown to see The Public.
Emilio Estavez read an essay several years ago by a librarian explaining how cuts in the social safety net had made him and his colleagues de facto first responders in one of the last bastions of shared social space for people of all backgrounds, social classes and ethnic identities. That essay inspired him to write the The Public script, star in, direct, and produce the movie. It was filmed in and takes place in Cincinnati where Estevez lives … at the downtown public library.
Estevez’s character works in the library and finds himself in the middle of a non-violent occupation by a large group of homeless library patrons. Because there isn’t enough room in the city’s emergency shelters during an unusual bitter arctic blast, they refuse to leave at closing time. Their sit-in and ragtag act of civil disobedience quickly escalates into a standoff with local riot police.
While I found myself wincing at memories of my own son’s past homelessness and online dating escapades via library computers, I found myself chuckling several times. The film’s humor serves brilliantly to accentuate the seriousness of homelessness, mental illness, alcoholism, and opioid addiction. Alec Baldwin, known as a comedian, portrays a character in pain because his son is a homeless opioid addict. Jena Malone, Michael Kenneth Williams, and Christian Slater effectively add comic relief to these grave issues.
Estevez: Kinder and Gentler
- make us feel something so deeply we can hardly put it into words
- help us understand our humanity a little better
- awaken us to the “better angels” of our nature
I’m all for that!!
In fact, I’m beginning to think that it is the arts far more than politics that has the potential for healing our fractured world. Hmm?? I think I see for the first time why dictatorships so often banish art and imprison artists?
I’m convinced that through depicting true stories of people drawing on the better angels of their nature (The Best of Enemies) or creating the world they yearn for (The Public), artists will shift our culture and drive the transformational change we so sorely need.
What about you?
Where do you find your sources of inspiration?
What inspires you to pull out the better angel of your nature?
How do you rejuvenate yourself when you are exhausted and discouraged?