Writer and Director Jeff Nichols made some interesting choices for
his movie “Loving,” about the Virginia interracial couple who were
sentenced to prison in 1958 for getting married.
He cast an Australian, Joel Edgerton, as Richard Loving, a quiet
country boy who was a bricklayer by profession, and for his hobbies loved
tinkering with cars for dirt-road drag racing.
He cast a woman named Ruth Negga, born in Ethiopia but raised in
Ireland, as Mildred Loving, the sometime-seamstress whose quiet but
insistent love for a white man led her to reluctant renown.
Nichols decides to begin the story at the moment when Mildren tells
Richard “I'm pregnant,” and after a dramatic pause, he says, “That's
great.” So we don't get the
backstory of how their relationship developed.
It's there. They
obviously love each other. And
they just want to settle down together and raise a family.
He has a dream about buying some property and building the house
himself. That's fine with her,
she just wants to raise her children out in the country, near where she
was raised, and be around her extended family.
But this is Virginia in the 1950's.
We don't see any evidence of the Klan, but this is still the rural
South, and racist attitudes prevail. Though
Richard and Mildred elope to Washington, D.C., to acquire the wedding
license after a brief civil ceremony, when they return, the sherriff
arrests them. The current laws
of the State of Virginia do not allow “interracial” marriage.
The sheriff also takes the opportunity to lecture Richard about
doing what's “not right.” Though
Richard seems close to his unsentimental Mother, the local midwife, she,
too, lectures him about doing what's “not right.”
Even one of Mildred's relatives tells him he should have just
shacked up with her, rather than marrying her.
Because that way, when he went to work in the morning, he would
still be a white man in a white man's world.
As it is, Richard seems more comfortable socializing with Mildred's
family, because they're more accepting.
It's Mildred's Dad who posts bond for them to be released from
Richard and Mildred find an almost-sympathetic lawyer who arranges
what he thinks is a great plea bargain:
plead guilty to the charge of being married, and accept the Judge's
suspension of the one-year sentence in exchange for moving out of the
County for 25 years. Reluctantly,
they agree to move to D.C., where she never feels at home, even after they
have three children. When one
of her boys almost gets run over in the street, she decides she has to
move back to the country. Richard
and Mildred have their typical two-sentence discussion (he's a man of few
words). And they move to an
isolated farmhouse in the next County, where they live in fear of being
discovered by the authorities.
But things are changing in the culture.
Martin Luther King, Jr. is on the television, leading peaceful
protests about social change. Mildred
is told she could write Bobby Kennedy, The Attorney General, about her
plight, and he forwards her letter to the ACLU, which refers her to an
inexperienced attorney named Cohen who advises them to get arrested again
so he can appeal the conviction. Richard
vetoes that idea, but not long after Cohen meets a “real” civil rights
lawyer who is interested in pursuing this case.
He writes a brief to the original Judge, who does them the favor of
responding about the rationale for his ruling.
This racist diatribe forms the basis for the appeal, which is
rejected by the Virginia Court of Appeals, but gets to the Supreme Court.
In the landmark 1967 case “Loving vs. Virginia,” the Supreme
Court ruled that marriage is an inherent right, regardless of racial
background. And all this time
Richard and Mildred were just trying to live their lives, raise their
children, and be together without outside interference.
Richard didn't even want to attend the proceedings, he just wanted
his lawyer to the judges that he loves his wife.
We love this story, and we love this couple, who simply loved each
other, and wanted to be free to do so.
It's a heartwarming tale, told simply and directly, and well worth