Supreme Court Building

Supreme Court Building

Director Jeff Nichols’s movie, “Loving”, tells the story of Mildred (Ruth Negga) and Richard Loving (Joel Edgerton), a bi-racial married couple that was arrested for violating Virginia’s anti-miscegenation laws. They were arrested in 1958, after they had gone to the District of Columbia to obtain a marriage license, which was framed and mounted on their bedroom wall, when at 2 AM the local sheriff and his deputies raided their home. At their trial, the judge suspends their prison sentences, provided that they leave the State of Virginia.

Mildred: “I’m pregnant.”
Richard: “Good. Good!”

Both Mildred and Richard are quiet, shy, country folk. Throughout the movie, the dialog between the two of them is sparse. Instead, Negga and Edgerton are able to convey the depth of these two people’s love for each other mostly through looks and gestures. The couple had rarely socialized outside their families and to be cut off from them hurts them both, but especially Mildred. Most of this story is told in rural Virginia, where the ‘quotidian quiet’ there jarringly clashes with the crowded noise of inner-city Washington. Time passes and while residing in DC they have three children. The Sixties arrive and with them the Civil Rights movement. Mildred is urged to get herself some civil rights and proceeds to write a letter to then Attorney General Robert Kennedy, who puts her in contact with the ACLU. Meanwhile, unable to tolerate the city any longer, the Loving’s choose to sneak back into Virginia.

Mildred: “We may lose the small battles, but win the big war.”

So begins a many years long game of cat-and-mouse. While their case winds its way through the courts and in the face of ever-increasing publicity the Loving’s attempt to live their lives and raise their children under the nose of the law. Of the two of them, Mildred had always embraced their legal battles the most, but after a couple of scary incidents Richard becomes even more reticent to this approach. On the eve of their hearing at the Supreme Court, their attorneys implore the Loving’s to attend, but the best that they can get is a statement from Richard Loving, “Tell the judge, I love my wife.” Loving v. Virginia was a landmark decision that struck down all the anti-miscegenation laws then, but also served as precedent for last year’s gay marriage ruling.

The power of Nichol’s storytelling is his emphasis on the couple’s basic humanity, their love for each other and the courage that they showed. The courtroom drama serves almost as epilogue to all this. The movie like a spotlight refocuses our attention again on a time in American history where idealism triumphed over repression and love conquered hate.

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