LOVING is the Jeff Nichols film about the two plaintiffs in the Supreme Court case, Loving v. Virginia, the landmark decision that struck down miscegenation laws; laws that were a vestige from slavery which criminalized marriages between the races, specifically whites and anyone non-white. In 1958 Richard—white (Joel Edgerton) and Mildred—African American (Ruth Negga) broke Virginia’s miscegenation law after eloping to Washington DC and returning to Virginia where they lived.
Pay attention to Nichols. He has directed and written Take Shelter, Mud and Midnight Special: three of the most engaging, hopeful, intelligent and visually interesting movies of the past few years and I believe that he was the best director to tell this story.
The movie is quiet given the enormity of the story. There’s not a lot of screaming and flailing around, though the tension is high throughout. From the moment the police break into their house and throw the Lovings out of their bed and into jail, to when their case is winding its way to the Supreme Court, the threats are real, but Nichols’ concentrates on one very crucial fact, they love each other.
It’s difficult to tell stories with quiet and shy protagonists. Simple people can seem the least compelling because most of us are simple and we enter the world of fiction wanting to see how those greater than us would slay the dragon, or rescue the prince. Yet quiet works in this movie because the point is, these were regular people who just wanted to live their lives. Edgerton and Negga portray this in an outstanding manner and it wouldn’t be premature to hear Oscar buzz for the two of them.
After watching Loving, we may be tempted to pat ourselves on the back for how far we’ve come. Of course, we shouldn’t have had to ask for what should have been offered, but that has been the struggle for civil rights. Yet in this political reality our Vice President-elect is adamantly opposed to gay marriage and has said “Keeping gays from marrying was not discrimination, but an enforcement of ‘God’s idea,” the same was also the justification for slavery and miscegenation laws. Loving is a reminder of the fragility and nascent nature* of the right to marry, as well as a thoughtful look at the dignity required to endure an undignified history.
I’d give this movie 4 stars.
Pedestrian rating system. Five stars: one of the best movies I’ve seen and I’m going to buy the movie as soon as it comes out in DVD. Four stars: pretty great and highly recommended. 3 stars: a fun good time. 2 stars: meh. 1 star: I was stuck on a 10 hour flight, I lost my book and there was nothing else to do. Zero stars: Nothing redeemable—not even the credits.
* Loving was decided in 1967, Alabama was the last state to change their constitution to allow for interracial marriages, they did this in 2000.