Loving, the latest film from director, Jeff Nichols (Midnight Special, Mud), shares the true story of Richard and Mildred Loving (Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga), a married couple who fought for the right to live together in the 1960’s.
In 1958 in Virginia, interracial marriage was illegal so Richard Loving (a white man) married his pregnant girlfriend, Mildred Jeter (a black woman), in Washington D.C., where it was legal. They settled near their families in rural Virginia until one day, the local police stormed their bedroom in the middle of the night and threw them in jail. Pleading guilty to cohabitation, they were sentenced to one year in jail but the jail time was commuted if they would leave the state for 25 years.
The Lovings moved to Washington, D.C. only to find the noise and danger of the city to be a difficult place to raise their kids. They also could not travel together to visit their families in Virginia. Mildred wrote to Attorney General Robert Kennedy and asked him to allow them to go home. He referred their case to the ACLU and it eventually landed on the doorstep of the U.S. Supreme Court. In 1967, the Supreme Court ruled in their favor in a landmark decision that stated it was unconstitutional to deny marriage based on race.
Loving as a film relies on excellent acting to embody the depth of love between Richard and Mildred. Ruth Negga carries the film as Mildred becomes the spokesperson for the couple when their case puts them in the limelight. Joel Edgerton as Richard shows the audience a man of few words but much strength. Michael Shannon, a regular in the films of Jeff Nichols, plays the small but important role of Grey Villet, a photographer from Life magazine, who comes to chronicle the normal life of the Loving Family. He captures them in their “everydayness,” showing the world that an interracial couple can also be a normal couple in love. (You can find Villet’s photos online here).
The film is quiet, unassuming, and understated. This is both a strength and a weakness. There is no extra drama woven into the story, just a realistic portrait of a family in a struggle bigger than themselves. That’s good. On the other hand, we don’t get to see the development of the relationship between Richard and Mildred. We don’t know why or how they fell in love, we only know that they did. While I was thrilled at the outcome of the case, I was disappointed that the film didn’t develop the Lovings more as individual characters. Even so, Loving is still very much worth the watch.
As people of faith living in the world, we know that our society’s understanding of marriage and family life has moved away from Church teaching and the values of traditional family life are often looked down upon or mocked. The story of Richard and Mildred Loving is a great reminder for our times, that marriage is a sacrament, and that the couple is a symbol of Christ’s love for the Church.
When Richard was asked by Bernie Cohen (Nick Kroll), his lawyer, if there was anything in particular he wanted Bernie to tell the Supreme Court Justices, Richard responded with a simplicity that spoke to the root of the issue. He told Cohen, “Yeah. Tell ‘em I love my wife.”