hief Justice Earl Warren presided over a Supreme Court that created seismic social shifts and changed the way we live. Landmark Warren Court decisions banned segregation in public schools (Brown v. Board of Education), mandated provision of legal counsel to poor defendants (Gideon v. Wainwright), and provided accused suspects with notification of their rights before interrogation (Miranda v. Arizona). Behind each of these landmark decisions are stories of human striving and suffering. One of the Warren Court’s most profoundly touching and achingly human decisions was Loving v. Virginia, which overturned anti-miscegenation laws in 16 Southern states and affirmed marriage as a fundamental human right that could not be restricted on the basis of arbitrary racial classifications. Loving eventually paved the way for the 2015 Supreme Court decision banning prohibitions on same-sex marriage.
Loving portrays the story and struggle of the two human beings – white construction worker Richard Loving (Joel Edgerton) and his black neighbor Mildred Jeter (Ruth Negga) -behind the legalese. In 1958, towheaded country boy Richard lives in rural Virginia and lives for tinkering with cars, drag racing, and drinking beer with his black racing buddies. He quietly loves his pal Raymond’s sister Mildred, fondly nicknamed “String Bean” by her close-knit family.
The film’s beginning depicts a parallel universe where love and friendship appear to conquer all. Richard often joins the Jeters at mealtime and regularly bonds with Raymond and his buddies Percy and Virgil over their love of big Detroit-made cars and rock ‘n’ roll. He kisses Mildred openly at races. When Mildred becomes pregnant, Richard proposes that they drive to Washington, D.C., to get married, because of Virginia’s prohibitions. He also finagles Mildred’s father Theoliver to come along as chaperone and witness. On the ride, Theoliver anxiously asks Richard if he knows what he is doing.
All too soon, the real universe intrudes on the Lovings as the town’s whites – and blacks – look askance at the newlyweds. Late one Friday night, police break into the Jeter home and drag the couple to jail. Richard is soon released, but the pregnant Mildred must remain in jail until Monday, when both are hauled before a judge, who expresses his distaste at their “unnatural union” and banishes them from the state to avoid jail time. Thus begins the Lovings’ 9-year nightmare, which only ends in 1967 with the Supreme Court case.
The film’s treatment of the Loving’s situation is respectful and unsensationalized. The system of white supremacy, which is the basis for the Southern anti-miscegenation laws, isn’t manifested in the usual cinematic depiction of burning crosses and hooded marchers, but rather is burrowed deeply in cold glances from neighbors and softly voiced racist statements. The sense of inescapable terror is underscored by the quietly thrumming background music, which is interspersed with bursts of the rock ‘n’ roll that Richard loves.Loving deserves 4.5 reels for its unsensationalized narrative and for outstanding performances. Negga, who is from Nigeria, and Edgerton, who is from Australia, are spot on as rural Southerners.