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Exclusive Interview with Bill Riddick: How a Tale of Two Unlikely Friends Can Help America Today

LifeZette spoke with a key player in 'The Best of Enemies' saga

The new film “The Best of Enemies” tells a much-needed story in today’s divided times, in which people talk less and less with those they disagree with, sadly enough.

The film, opening in theaters on Friday, April 5, tells the true story of Ann Atwater (Taraji P. Henson) and C.P. Ellis (Sam Rockwell) and their talks of integrating the schools in Durham, North Carolina, in 1971.

The two individuals could not have been more different.

They were separated by sex and race — and, more importantly — beliefs.

Atwater was a civil rights activist. Ellis was a KKK leader. What happened over the course of talks between the two — which eventually became a 10-day public debate — is that they became friends.

They saw each other’s points of view and worked together despite their differences. Ellis came around on school integration when he realized poor white people could do better in a desegregated society.

Atwater and Ellis have both passed now, but the filmmakers still had a real-life figure who had lived through these official talks of desegregation and planning to turn to: Bill Riddick (shown above).

Riddick, who is 81 and lives in Raleigh, was the mediator in the case. He witnessed the relationship between Atwater and Ellis unfold before his very eyes.

“I never envisioned that this would be on the big screen,” Riddick told LifeZette in an exclusive interview by telephone.

Riddick was actually invited to the set of “The Best of Enemies” and wound up consulting on the script.

“I’ve had my input from day one,” he said.

He was “very vocal,” he added, when he felt there was something inappropriate or inaccurate in the script.

Riddick not only lived through the story of “Best of Enemies,” he also believes in the power of the tale of these two individuals.

Riddick hopes “The Best of Enemies” will not only encourage people to talk to each other, but also to look at their own behavior and how they might be closing themselves off to others with different beliefs.

“In 1971, we were in the middle of trying to adjust to the civil rights that had been passed by Congress,” said Riddick. “People were separated to the extent that they would just not talk to each other … It was a real miracle to get these two people to sit down and talk.”

Riddick believes “class separation” is mainly what divides people today.

“Everybody calls themselves right,” he said.

Riddick hopes “The Best of Enemies” will not only encourage people to talk to each other, but also to look at their own behavior and how they might be closing themselves off to others with different beliefs.

“I hope this movie will allow individuals to have a look in the mirror,” said Riddick.

The film is based on the book, “The Best of Enemies: Race and Redemption in the New South” by Osha Gray Davidson.

Robin Bissell directed the film and also wrote the screenplay.

Watch the trailer here: