A married interracial couple’s determination to reside in their home state of Virginia, in violation of Virginia laws against interracial marriage, leads to the legal overturning of all such laws in sixteen states. Based on a true story. [ Loving credits: Dir: Jeff Nichols/ Ruth Negga, Joel Edgerton, Will Dalton/ 123 min/ Drama, Romance/ Government as Bigot, Sexual Liberty, Social Tolerance]
In 1967, the US Supreme Court ruled unanimously that laws prohibiting interracial marriage violated both the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and that such laws were therefore unconstitutional. The case was aptly named “Loving v. Virginia,” after the defendants, Richard and Mildred Loving. This film tells their story.
Richard and Mildred had grown up together as neighbors and fell in love, but as an interracial couple it was illegal for them to marry in Virginia. So, they went to Washington (DC), married and returned home. They knew that such a marriage would not stand legally in Virginia; they simply wanted to be married, and naively thought that either the authorities wouldn’t find out or wouldn’t care. But the ever-vigilant State did find out and it did care. Authorities got wind of their marriage and threatened them with five year’s imprisonment if they didn’t leave. They reluctantly did leave, but necessity and homesickness now and then brought them back, traveling at great risk and in secret.
Mildred eventually brought their case to the attention of the ACLU, which fought it through the courts all the way to final victory in the Supreme Court. This legal triumph was echoed half a century later when the Supreme Court specifically cited the Loving decision in its legalization of gay marriage.
The Loving’s story is told here with powerful subtlety. Events simply unfold. They are not underscored with emotive musical cues, or editorialized in any way. Even the performances of Ruth Negga (Mildred) and Joel Edgerton (Richard) are low-key, but effective nonetheless. You don’t need to be told Mildred and Richard are in love. The caliber of acting is such that you see it in their body language and in their eyes. Ruth Negga’s performance earned her an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress.
Some reviewers have complained that the film doesn’t express enough rage and indignation, and in less skilled hands it might have gone that route. Ironically, it’s exactly the absence of that third-millennial eagerness to express feelings of offense that makes it so compelling. These are not stock characters breathing life into a hack screenwriter’s political narrative. They are real people, the people of their own time and place. We feel what they felt; and indeed the Lovings were not angry revolutionaries but simply two very private middle-class people of quiet courage and determination who wanted normal middle-class lives for themselves and for their family.
This is a thoroughly satisfying film, but it wasn’t until the ending that I realized its full power. When the Lovings’ attorney, about to approach the Supreme Court, asks Richard “Is there anything you would like me to say to the Supreme Court?,” Richard hesitates and replies simply “Yes, tell them I love my wife.” It is a perfectly ordinary and honest reply, but there is worry in his face, and because by this time you have come to care about these two very decent people, you share that worry of what may or may not happen in the trial…and what it might mean for them if they lose. That was the point when I had to tell myself to hold it together.
You can share Loving age-appropriately with the whole family, as there is no significant sex, violence, or even objectionable language. The example it offers of two good people standing their ground for what is right is both of historical significance and a fine example of moral heroism.
“Loving captures at once the tension of man’s morally principled stand against the state, love’s intimacy and the immeasurable toll government control exacts upon the best people…It’s a hard, moving and elegiac movie and it ranks with ‘Black or White’ and ‘Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner’ high among Hollywood’s greatest interracial-themed films.”
“Historical drama on interracial marriage is Oscarworthy…a quietly devastating film that resonates for the here and now and marches to the cadences of history and the heart.”
“What [director] Nichols does — and does so exquisitely — is to show not only the deep love between two ordinary people but also…the damage an intrusive and bigoted authority can do.”
“Viewers expecting a climactic showdown…or highly pitched speeches about civil rights, privacy and marriage equality will be surprised by a film that steadfastly avoids the most obvious and tempting theatrical manipulations. Instead, viewers are confronted by something far more revolutionary and transformative, in the form of two people’s devotion to each other, and the deep-seated psychological and state forces driven to derangement by that purest emotional truth.”
How to See It
“With a perfect last name amid imperfect circumstances, Richard and Mildred Loving made history when their fight for the state of Virginia to recognize their interracial marriage made it all the way to the Supreme Court in 1967.”
–“The Real Story Behind ILoving,” People Magazine