“Loving” Celebrates Humanity In Cinematic Adaptation Of Loving v. Virginia

Photo Courtesy of dailytrojan.com | Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton star in Jeff Nichols’ “Loving.”

Emily Luong ’20
Contributing Writer

On Feb. 17 and 18 at Weinstein Auditorium, SEC presented “Loving,” a film that captures a monumental event in the Civil Rights Era. “Loving” depicts Richard and Mildred Loving not as mere plaintiffs and namesakes behind the landmark civil rights Supreme Court case, but as two unassuming individuals who did not intend to change the country. They simply wished to love each other and raise their family. Through the emphasis on the Lovings themselves, the film reveals the human side of Loving v. Virginia.

“Loving” follows Mildred and Richard Loving, an interracial couple, as they fall in love. They get married in Washington D.C., where such a union could have been made during the late 1950s. Arrested for their unlawful marriage when they return to their native Virginia, the couple are forced to leave the state for 25 years and raise their family in Washington D.C., despite their homesickness for the countryside. Having enough of the arrangement, the Lovings write to Attorney Robert Kennedy of their situation. They receive legal backing from the ACLU to begin what would result in the Loving v. Virginia Supreme Court decision, which declared Virginia’s anti-miscegenation statute unconstitutional.

Directed and written by Jeff Nichols, “Loving” features Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton as Mildred Loving and Richard Loving, respectively. Critically acclaimed across the board, “Loving” has received accolades such as Golden Globe and BAFTA nominations. Notably, Negga is nominated for Best Actress at the 89th Academy Awards, scheduled to take place on Feb. 26. “Loving,” originally released on Nov. 4, was preceded by “Moonlight,” and followed by “Hidden Figures,” films that tell the stories of African Americans on the big screen. These films are especially important during a tumultuous period of political and social unrest.

One of the ways in which “Loving” humanizes the couple was the decision to put the context of the Supreme Court case at the forefront, while the case itself is given less screen time. But while viewers get to know the Lovings’ commitment to each other on a personal level and their desire to live a simple life, hints leading up to the country-changing decision are interweaved cleverly. “Loving” begins with Mildred and Richard sitting on a porch at night when they are young and unmarried. The first line of the movie is Mildred’s confession that she’s pregnant, alluding to arguments against interracial marriage that claim that producing mixed-race children is undesirable. This foreshadowing is made clearer by shots of Mildred running through the woods of rural Virginia, focusing on her visibly pregnant stomach.

Finally the time comes when ACLU attorney Bernard Cohen (Nick Kroll) and his associate Phil Hirschkop (Jon Bass) go before the Supreme Court and argue the case on the Lovings’ behalf. In a brilliantly crafted scene, the Lovings are shown playing with their children, eating dinner together, sewing and mowing the lawn while a voiceover of the hearing plays in the background. This juxtaposition truly shows the Lovings’ genuine desire to distance themselves from the public eye, portraying the couple as the unassuming people they were known as in real life.   

Not only does the film explore the Lovings beyond the court case through the deliberate focus on their daily lives and struggles, but also, Negga and Edgerton create characters that viewers can connect with. Negga plays a sweet, shy and hopeful Mildred, successfully masking her Irish accent and adopting a Southern drawl without skipping a beat. Likewise, Edgerton brings to life a reticent, hardworking and devoted Richard, bleaching his hair blond and mirroring his slumped posture from years of hunching over laying bricks in order to physically resemble Richard Loving as much as possible. Their on-screen chemistry truly shines as the Lovings’ marriage is tested time after time throughout the years. When asked by Cohen if he had a message for the Supreme Court justices, Richard simply replies, “Tell the judge I love my wife”–seven words that quintessentially summarizes the pure love between the two.

While most have learned of Loving v. Virginia in their U.S. History classes, any matter-of-fact, detached language does not do the historical event justice. “Loving” brings the couple’s history to life, celebrating the humanity and love behind the Supreme Court case. It shows two people who get caught up in the whirlwind of social change that characterized the time period. Through this beautifully emotional depiction, the film transforms a court decision into the culmination of hope and determination to simply live out a content life.

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