There is a lot going on right now. So much so that we often neglect history, those who have fought (intentionally or otherwise) to get us to where we are today. And although the fight continues everyday, without realizing how impactful it may be, Richard and Mildred Loving were at the forefront of change. “Loving” is such a story that touches upon hate, social and racial injustices that still echo to this day. But most importantly, it is about love and the love of two people who wished to share it with each other without societal and racial constraint. Director and writer Jeff Nichols delivers an inspiring, emotionally fulfilling story that is made all the more beautiful in its subtlety and important in these trying and ever-changing times.
Although we’ve come a long way in terms of racial politics, there are still those who hold onto racial prejudices and find it uncomfortable to see two people not of the same race together. For many, they will find every excuse to dislike it or give any reason why the couple in question shouldn’t be together (that of them being physically unappealing together being what many say). Often, this bias against interracial relationships is internalized and bubbles to the surface after recognizing that some couples just don’t look like what many are used to seeing in real life or in media. I’ve seen it in the real world (just read the many demeaning and horrifying comments after Old Navy decided to do an ad using an interracial family) and has even long festered in the world of fandom. In essence, this hatred exists. And at this point in 2016, “Loving” is nothing short of timely.
It’s 1958 and Richard and Mildred Loving (Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga, respectively) are happy and in love. After finding out Ruth’s pregnant with the couple’s first child, they drive from Caroline County, Virginia to Washington, DC in order to legally marry. Laws in Virginia made it illegal for interracial marriage back then and not long after returning to their hometown do the Lovings find themselves imprisoned for having gotten married. Arrested and horrifyingly taken straight from their bedroom in the middle of the night.
“I’m his wife,” Mildred declares after being asked by an officer who she is. “Not here you’re not,” the officer replies. Facing the threat of being imprisoned again after refusing to leave each other, the couple moves to DC. While there, Mildred decides to write to Attorney General Robert Kennedy and their case is picked up pro bono by two lawyers, Bernie Cohen (Nick Kroll) and Phil Hirschkop (Jon Bass). The struggle is long and arduous, going on for nine years before finally picking up enough leverage to make it to the Supreme Court in 1967; the final ruling declared Virginia’s “Racial Integrity Act of 1924” unconstitutional.
“Loving” is equal parts touching and heartbreaking, moving and inescapably despondent, yet hopeful. Nichols, who drew from the 2011 documentary, “The Loving Story”, by Nancy Buirski, paints a clear picture of the Lovings. Both Richard and Mildred are always walking on eggshells, living in fear and waiting for the other shoe to drop. Mildred is the more hopeful of the two, while Richard is more reluctant at first to drag their lives through the court system. Both, however, don’t overshare their emotions and are generally private people, but it’s not hard to see the deep, deep love they have for one another. Both Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton are fierce and captivating in their performances. “What do you want me to tell the judge?” the lawyer asks. Edgerton pauses long enough to have your heart settle in your throat before destroying your emotions completely with his answer of, “Tell him I love my wife.”
Nichols is able to build the story and does so without relying heavily on excessive or inflated dialogue. Between Negga and Edgerton, the chemistry is palpable and they’re able to express the love their characters have for each other through body language. The film plays out over a decade and it does so naturally and fluidly. It’s emotionally stirring and understated in its devotion to laying out the story and humanizing the characters’ experience. This isn’t to say “Loving” is a perfect film, however, and, although it gives us both characters’ perspectives, it does tend to give more focus on Edgerton’s character. Regardless of this critique, it remains a strong and moving film, subtle in its power and delivery and one that everyone should go to see. The Lovings, whose name is highly fitting, paved the way for all future interracial couples to be able to get married and it’s wonderful to have it celebrated in a film worthy of their story.
"Loving" is a strong and moving film, subtle in its power and delivery and one that everyone should go to see.