November 9, 2016

Loving: Their Forbidden Romance Led to a Landmark Supreme Court Decision

movie-rev-11-9-16Mildred Jeter (Ruth Negga) and Richard Loving (Joel Edgerton) committed a crime when they were young and fell in love in 1958. That’s because she was black and he was white, and they were living in Virginia, one of many southern states that had anti-miscegnation laws that forbade cohabitation, marriage, procreation, and sexual relations across racial lines.

Nevertheless, Richard was in love and he asked Mildred to marry him. When Mildred said yes, he purchased a vacant plot of land where he promised to build their dream home. However, in order to become married, they had to go to Washington, D.C., where they could obtain a marriage license.

When they returned to their hometown of Central Point, they were promptly arrested in a nighttime raid by policemen who were tipped off about the couple’s recent wedding. They were charged with violating section 20-58 of Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act, a felony that was punishable with up to five years in prison.

The Lovings were convicted, but they fled to the District of Columbia in order to avoid going to jail, especially since Mildred was expecting their first child. It was a tragedy for them to be fugitives and forced to start their family in a strange city, since they already had a place to live, albeit in a state that sanctioned racial intolerance.

Five years later, their plight came to the attention of Bernie Cohen (Nick Kroll) and Phil Hirshkop (Jon Bass) who were attorneys working with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The lawyers persuaded Mildred and Richard to become plaintiffs in a suit that challenged the constitutionality of Virginia’s statute that prohibited interracial marriage.

The couple agreed to pursue the case, and the appellate process worked its way up to the U.S. Supreme Court. “Tell the judge I love my wife,” Richard implored the ACLU legal team as they were preparing their oral argument before the court.

On June 12, 1967, the Court announced its unanimous decision that was written by Chief Justice Earl Warren. It declared that the state of Virginia had violated the Loving family’s rights to equal protection and due process that were guaranteed in the 14th amendment to the constitution.

Directed by Jeff Nichols (Mud), Loving chronicles the life and times of an unassuming couple whose landmark legal case thrust them into the national limelight. The production features excellent performances by Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton, who generate a quietly convincing screen chemistry while portraying Mildred and Richard as a modest working-class family.

Excellent (****). Rated PG-13 for mature themes and ethnic slurs. Running time: 123 minutes. Studio: Big Beach Films. Distributor: Focus Features.