Loving debuted quietly in November 2016. It tells the story of a brave biracial couple, Richard and Mildred Loving, who fought for their right to love one another within the bonds of holy matrimony. Set in 1950s Virginia, the film draws a clear and shocking picture of true racism and celebrates the courage of this extraordinary couple played by Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga.
Directed by Jeff Nichols, Loving received a number of nominations including Golden Globes for best actor and actress. Negga was also nominated for her subtle and moving portrayal of the little-known Civil Rights icon Mildred Loving. The film is a testament to the tenacity of two humble icons of the Civil Rights Movement. By refusing to settle for less, the Lovings drew attention to the truth that love knows no boundaries of skin color or social class. The saddest element of this film is not the story, though. It is the fact that prior to the making of this movie, I doubt many people knew who the Lovings were or recognized the impact they had on American history. I certainly had never heard of them, and I’ve studied constitutional law!
After their courtship, Richard and Mildred are wed in Washington, D.C., where the race-related laws are more lenient. They then return home to central Virginia to live with her family, proudly displaying their marriage certificate on their bedroom wall. But word gets out and, in no time, they are hauled out of bed in the dead of night, arrested, and charged with violating the state’s anti-miscegenation, or anti-interracial relationship, laws.
Richard and Mildred originally plead guilty and are ordered to leave the state and not appear within its borders together again. They say goodbye to their families and try to abide by these terms. But living far away from family, isolated in an urban ghetto of Washington, D.C., takes its toll on Mildred. Eventually, they return home to appeal the Virginia supreme court’s ruling with help from the ACLU, living under the radar in Virginia while their case plays out in court.
At long last, Loving vs. Virginia came before the Supreme Court of the United States. In its landmark decision, the Court ruled in favor of the Lovings, striking down anti-miscegenation laws once and for all. After a ten-year legal battle, the Lovings were finally free to love one another publicly and without fear.
To say that Loving portrays a blight on America’s history is an understatement. However, it also celebrates the fact that while America has not always been right, she has always aimed to do the right thing by her people and in the sight of God. Righting the course of action may not always be a quick process, but, eventually, reason and morality win out. The movie also highlights the legal and highly effective ways in which Martin Luther King’s civil rights movement fought against ignorance and prejudice. The Lovings won their fight not by rioting, violence, or disrespect, but by way of reason and an appeal to fundamental human decency.
In a world where the word “racist” is thrown about the way a Valley Girl says the word “like,” Loving is a reminder that if everything is racist, nothing truly is. Calling people racist simply because they do not agree with your ideals or opinions minimizes the true racism people experieneed during Reconstruction and the Jim Crow-era. Currently, we are seeing a rash of violent protests, attacks on police, and racial discord reminiscent of the early-to-mid 20th century. Chants of “Black Lives Matter” ring out from around the country and those who dare to chant “ALL Lives Matter” in return are bullied into submission (e.g., 2016 presidential candidate Martin O’Malley). It is for this reason that Loving is a particularly timely film.
If we as a society took the time to watch this movie and let the story sink into our collective conscious, I believe race relations would improve dramatically. For it portrays love that knows no bounds of skin color or social class and an enduring hope that civility and fairness will prevail. Loving demonstrates that when we allow prejudice to divide us, we all lose. Inequality for some results in unfairness and pain for all.
Richard Loving was a white man, but his heart belonged to a black woman. Because of this, he was harassed and threatened for close to ten years while he waited for the government to recognize his right to love his wife. Mildred Loving spent ten years in fear of being whisked away and missing her children growing up – all because of who she chose to love. If we put aside our superficial differences we would see that we are more alike than different. We all want the same fundamental things – love, respect, work, and the opportunity to build a life with the people we love.
Rarely does a film take root in your heart and inspire you to be better, do better and love better. Even its name, Loving, is profound and multifaceted, for the film is instructive in how a husband shound love his wife, how a wife shound love her husband, and how we, as a society, should overlook our differences and love one another.