“Loving”

 

            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 jail.

            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.  That's all.

            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 the telling.

 

Questions for Discussion:

1)                  Why did interracial couples formerly face societal prejudice?

2)                  We now have a President who is a child of an interracial couple.  Do you think interracial children still face societal prejudice?

3)                  Do you think that allowing homosexual couples to legally marry is also part of the same logic of “inherent right”?

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association