‘Loving’ Movie Review: Oscar? I think so…
Two people just loving each other and willing to do whatever it takes to be together.
“Loving” celebrates the real-life courage and commitment of an interracial couple, Richard and Mildred Loving, who married and then spent the next nine years fighting for the right to live as a family in their hometown. Their civil rights case, Loving v. Virginia, went all the way to the Supreme Court, which in 1967 reaffirmed the very foundation of the right to marry — and their love story has become an inspiration to couples ever since.
The film may be about big issues, but it is a spectacularly intimate experience.
Richard Loving and Mildred Jeter (he’s white, she’s black and Native American) grew up in a corner of Virginia, not too far from where I live, where different races were united by limited educational and economic opportunities.
The Loving’s lives are lightly fictionalized in the film by Jeff Nichols, and depicts their love and struggle after being convicted in 1959 of violating Virginia’s anti-miscegenation, Racial Integrity Act and laws.
Eventually their case led to a Supreme Court decision that dismantled the laws banning mixed race marriages.
Joel Edgerton (Richard Loving), and Ruth Negga (Mildred), are excellent as the center of this controversial case (Rolling Stone says Negga’s performance is “breathtaking.”), and play this uncomplicated couple beautifully.
While I knew very little about this film, the title, ‘Loving,’ threw me. I’ve always felt, growing up in California during this era, that I knew quite a bit about the civil rights movement, but I didn’t know this story.
And, I thought, the “civil rights movement,” while crucial and important, we’re not what I wanted to watch, as film is an escape. Hard to escape the subject of civil rights today. Truth be told, the film isn’t about a Civil Rights movement. It was about two people just loving each other and willing to do whatever it takes to be together.
It begs the question, though, WHY TELL IT NOW?
There are few Supreme Court rulings that have had the impact that the Loving case had on our culture and politics. In 1967, the year of Loving v. Virginia, 16 states had laws against interracial marriage. Had Barack Obama’s white mother and black father lived in one of those states when they married in 1961, their marriage would have been a felony. Yet the culture of interracial marriage is slow to catch up with legal realities. The 2000 census found only 4.9% of US marriages were interracial.
The Loving Story rouses discussion and debate about interracial marriage and tolerance in the US. It brings together all groups with stakes in marriage equality to seek out commonalties and understanding. It examines the miscegenation crime the Lovings were accused of committing — its roots based in slavery and its lingering, pervasive impact. Freshly revealed, the Loving’s story inspires mixed race couples and their children to share their struggles and claim their unique identities.
WHAT CAN WE DO:
Perhaps leveraging the film into advocacy and action is essential to fulfilling the intent often from Hollywood: to inform, to educate, to move or call to action. With The Loving Story, we have the opportunity to inform the public about what is a very recent right of Americans to freely marry people of their choice regardless of race, as well as to reveal the personal struggle of the Lovings. We also have the opportunity to open dialogue about the right of Americans to marry, irrespective of any other issues.
A century after the Civil War abolished slavery, laws enforcing racial segregation criminalized marriage, and sometimes also sex, between members of different races. Sixteen states had such bans until the 1967 Supreme Court decision on Loving vs. Virginia declared those laws unconstitutional.
These are the kind of movies I thoroughly enjoy: history of a great story, and an warm, nuanced domestic drama…a great combination. Based on the experiences of Richard and Mildred Loving, the real-life plaintiffs in that landmark case, it shows how far America has come in its views of race and equality — and how far is left to go. It wasn’t about a Civil Rights movement, although crucial and important, once again, it is about two people just loving each other and willing to do whatever it takes to be together.
It’s challenging for a film to tell an important American story without cheap sentiment, but using clear thought to earn our strong and hard-won emotions, the film Loving works. In “Loving,” we have a glimpse back in time to an era when the personal, civic and moral responsibility of small groups helped remind the nation of its commitment to humanity, decency and justice. It is a film not to be missed.