When Rosa Parks sat down in the ‘white’ part of an Alabaman bus in 1955 she laid the groundwork for the civil rights movement in the US. Just three years later, Richard and Mildred Loving flouted the ban on interracial marriages in Virginia where they lived, marrying in Washington DC where such marriages were legal.
Miscegenation – and the children of such relationships – were viewed as abhorrent and were illegal in 24 out of 50 American states. The Lovings were picked up by the Virginia police and exiled from that state for 25 years. They made a home in Washington with their three children but Mildred, especially, always yearned for the countryside of home and really felt the injustice of Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act. Moreover she was a fighter. She wrote to Bobby Kennedy who referred her to the American Civil Liberties Unit to take up her case. The case failed two appeals in Virginia and it was not until 1967 when it finally reached the Supreme Court which ruled in the Lovings’ favour, thus wiping out the US’s remaining racial segregation laws.
Even though I’m a child of miscegenation and faced discrimination, as did my parents, I’d not heard of this case until I saw Jeff Nichols’ film Loving. From what I’ve read it sticks faithfully to what actually happened and is to be commended for bringing this important piece of legislation to our attention.
It’s brilliantly acted by Ruth Negga who plays Mildred, a vivacious woman who cared deeply about her home life, and by Joel Edgerton playing Richard, somewhat taciturn but obviously deeply in love with his wife.
However, the film comes across as rather quiet, even pedestrian. The first half, laying down the foundation for the case, never really takes off. We see Richard and Mildred participating in day-to-day life with almost no personal racism. Both families get on and at drag racing meetings we see black and white contenders and spectators mixing well. No direct racism in Virginia then, only the institutional racism of the State law? I’m not sure it was as easy as that.
I do like the non-melodramatic nature of the film – unusually for a film of a legal case Nichols chooses not to portray the actual court scenes. But the film as a whole is too restrained and a little too idealistic, given the current racism on American streets today.