Feature: Loving

Richard (Joel Edgerton) and Mildred Loving (Ruth Negga), an interracial couple, are sentenced to prison in Virginia in 1958 for getting married. Directed by Jeff Nichols (Midnight Special, Mud, Take Shelter).

“Why didn’t I know about this before?”

This is a common refrain heard when discovering human rights breakthroughs from decades past – and the love story of Richard and Mildred Loving has paved the way for many more since. Richard and Mildred’s history is now told anew by acclaimed writer/director Jeff Nichols in LOVING. “I was struck by the simplicity of their beautiful love story,” says the filmmaker.

Richard, who was white, and Mildred, who was African-American and Native-American, were an ordinary couple from Central Point, Virginia. They decided to marry and start a family. Yet, at that time in Virginia, what they did was against the law and they were arrested soon after getting married.

As the plaintiffs in Loving v. Virginia, they were catalysts for the Supreme Court decision that abolished anti-miscegenation laws – or, laws against interracial marriage – in the United States. In establishing marriage as a fundamental right, Loving v. Virginia is still frequently cited in court cases today, including in challenges to gay marriage bans.

But the Lovings were not activists; they merely reasonably expected that their fully legal marriage in Washington D.C. would suffice for them to live peacefully in their hometown of Central Point. Initially, they made no appeal after they were arrested for violating Virginia’s anti-miscegenation laws, and agreed to a plea bargain that effectively banished them from their home state.

When the Lovings finally sought legal aid in 1963, their sole aim was to be able to get back to – and live in their – home. It was only in 1965, at the urging of their attorneys Bernard Cohen and Philip Hirschkop, that the couple agreed to go public with their story and talk to the press. After the Supreme Court handed down its decision in their favour in June 1967, the Lovings went back to their everyday lives and to raising their three children in Central Point, and rarely gave interviews.

In 2008, the surviving member of the couple, Mildred, passed away. Reading about Mildred, documentary filmmaker Nancy Buirski was moved by the Lovings’ unshakable devotion to one another – and by the contemporary relevance of their case. Buirski decided to make a documentary feature about Richard and Mildred Loving. Her research led her to television news producer Hope Ryden, who had spent hours filming the Lovings at home in 1965 and then returned in 1967 for ABC-TV to profile them on the eve of the ruling. That footage and other archival resources, including luminous photos by Life Magazine photographer Grey Villet, were utilized by Buirski in writing, producing, and directing ‘The Loving Story’. The documentary played at festivals in 2011 before being shown on HBO on Valentine’s Day, 2012. It won a Peabody Award and an Emmy Award, among other honours, and captivated audiences and critics alike with its depiction of a committed and courageous couple who, above all else, were very much in love.

One of those captivated viewers was Academy Award-winning actor Colin Firth, who was already aware of the documentary; Buirski had been in contact with Firth regarding a feature version of the story after learning from Firth’s wife Livia of his interest in American politics and social history. By 2009, Buirski and Firth were brainstorming a narrative structure and began working on a screenplay.

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LOVING is in UK cinemas from Friday, 3rd February, 2017

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