'Loving' poignantly chronicles the end of miscegenation laws
PHOTO BY RAINDOG FILMS
Where is it playing?: The Palm Theatre, SLO
What's it rated?: PG-13
What's it worth?: $ Full price
What's it worth?: $ Full price
Writer-director Jeff Nichols (Shotgun Stories, Take Shelter, Mud, Midnight Special) tells the true story of Richard and Mildred Loving (Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga), an interracial couple who are sent to jail in 1958 for marrying, and whose case—Loving v. Virginia—eventually made it to the Supreme Court, resulting in the striking down of miscegenation laws. (123 min.)
Glen: In the wake of same-sex marriage legalization, Loving seems particularly well timed. It seems inconceivable now that just 50 short years ago, 18 states had laws forbidding interracial marriages; hence the film is inherently poignant and more than a little infuriating—another black mark on American history that must not be forgotten. Richard and Mildred just wanted to be left alone. He was a hard working mason who hot-rodded cars as a hobby; Mildred was a country gal. Their sin was heading up to Washington, D.C., and getting married. The film never reveals how the authorities got wind of their relationship, but there was certainly enough disapproval in both the white and black communities. The couple becomes the target of Sheriff Brooks (Marton Csokas), his deputy (Michael Abbott Jr.), and the county jailer (Greg Cooper), who show up in the middle of the night and drag them both off to jail. The idea of races mixing and producing children was anathema to many Southern whites, but with the help of attorney Frank Beazley (Bill Camp), the two manage to receive a suspended sentence by Judge Bazile (David Jensen) if they promise to move out of Virginia and never return together again. What follows is their difficult life in the North, their desire to return to their home and family, and the unexpected help they eventually receive from ACLU lawyers Bernie Cohen (Nick Kroll) and Phil Hirschkop (Jon Bass). It takes almost a decade for their case to get a hearing before the Supreme Court, and in the meantime they raise three children. It’s a fascinating story told by talented writer-director Nichols, who’s made several surprising films that have pushed genre boundaries. While more conventional than some of his other films, this is a story that needed to be told.
Anna: The Lovings are skeptical that their case will ever be heard, let alone won. Richard is especially hesitant to trust young Bernie Cohen, who offers them representation paid for by the ACLU. His response is, “You get what you pay for,” and he leaves the active work to Richard, convinced that the suit will only wind up putting them back in jail or at the least causing huge trouble for his family. His paranoia grows as does the media coverage of them, and his instinct to protect his family pushes him to the limit. Edgerton’s Richard is strong and stoic, a man of few words who wants only a simple and happy life for his family. Mildred, though sweet and quiet, is a force to be reckoned with. She will not rest if there is any hope of being able to return home. She’s heartbroken and depressed; her children are growing up in a city, not in the fields and open lands she loves in the country. She doesn’t get to see her family often; her closest friend is her sister, and they’re separated by miles too great for her to bear. When a glimmer of hope is shone at her, she grabs on with both hands, and Richard knows there’s no way to stop her. Their tender, heart-wrenching story is told with grace by director Nichols. These characters were real people, and he keeps them that way, their failures and triumphs, hopes and reality, all portrayed with nuance by Negga and Edgerton.
Glen: Negga was especially good. You can see the heartache in her eyes. Edgerton had to internalize, but he did an amazing job—especially with his interactions with Sheriff Brook—to depict the South’s caste system. As far as most Southern whites are concerned, any white person who would have an equal relationship with a black person was poor white trash. Over and over we hear white people say, “You know better,” as in, you know how the system works, you know the rules, and he does, but Richard’s love was too great. Neither he nor Mildred wanted to be heroes, but they did want justice. By agreeing to work with the ACLU, they were risking a lot, and by agreeing to all the publicity that the ACLU told them they needed to win the case, they were exposing their private lives, which was especially difficult for Richard. If you go online and Google “Richard and Mildred Loving Life Magazine,” you’ll see a collection of black and white photos taken by Grey Villet for the magazine. Michael Shannon, a frequent collaborator with Nichols, plays the photographer who visits the Lovings in their home and witnesses their candid moments. They’re just two regular people who fell in love. They just happen to be the two people who were able to undo unjust laws that ultimately made marriage a constitutional right, and then paved the way for the legalization of same-sex marriage. It’s a moving, beautifully told story that’s certainly Academy Award worthy.
Anna: I agree. Negga put out an amazing performance in this film. When Mildred is getting ready to have their first child, she wants Richard’s mother, a midwife, to deliver the baby. That meant getting her across state lines undetected, which required Richard to sneak her over in the middle of the night, put her in another car, and meet up at the house later on. While they successfully have the baby in his family home, their joy is short lived as you see the sheriff and his deputy pull up the next day to arrest them. The thought of leaving your newborn to be carted off to jail would break any mother’s heart, especially when her only crime is marrying a white man. It’s such an infuriating concept these days, but a short while ago, proponents of same-sex marriage had to argue the same points for their equal rights, just as the Lovings did 50 years ago. They chose to have strength even when giving up was easier, and to continue fighting the good fight that ended up changing many individual lives and our country as a whole. In the beginning of the film, Richard tells Mildred his dream of building her a home in a field she grew up near. And in the end, he’s finally able to do that a decade later. This story will most likely have you in tears, and the superb acting is not to be missed. I won’t be surprised at all to see it on the short list of award-worthy films of 2016.
Sun Screen is written by New Times Senior Staff Writer Glen Starkey and his wife, Anna. Comment at email@example.com.