‘Loving’ Recalls First Marriage Equality Battle; SFGN chats with director

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Photo Credit: Focus Features.

On June 12, 1967, the United States Supreme Court struck down all statewide bans on interracial marriage. This decision was the result of a lawsuit filed by Mildred Loving, an African American woman--she and her husband Richard, who was white, were a quiet, simple couple in Virginia. The Lovings had been arrested shortly after their 1958 marriage. All the Lovings wanted to do was to raise their family and love each other, and they shunned the spotlight they were thrust into.

In the new film “Loving,” now playing in theaters, the lives of the Lovings and the battles they were forced to fight are recreated.

"Is there anything you want me to tell the judge?" Richard Loving is asked by his attorney as a court date looms on the horizon.

"Tell him I love my wife," Loving (Joel Edgerton) replies. It's one of many powerful moments in a film, which serves in part as a character study of the couple who fought the original marriage equality battle.

As the story unfolds, some viewers might indeed note the striking similarities between the Loving story and the marriage battle fought by the LGBT community more than forty years later. In one particularly infuriating scene, which underscores the injustices they were subjected to, the Lovings are told by a judge that they can avoid jail time if they leave Virginia and agree not return to the state for twenty-five years.

"The LGBT marriage equality fight was definitely in the back of our minds during filming", director Jeff Nichols said after a recent press preview of the film. "The two battles were more or less the same."

Nichols added that while much of Loving was based on historical documents, little was known about the years during which the couple lived under the radar as their case worked its way through the courts.

"What were they doing in their day to day lives while the court case was progressing?" Nichols wondered, as he explained how he pieced the story together. "Since details of their years in hiding weren't available, I tried to focus on the pervasive psychological threat that was hanging over them during those years."

The results are mesmerizing. Though it's largely speculation--both Richard and Mildred have passed on--Nichols presents a plausible look inside the couple's private lives as they eat their meals, watch TV and raise their kids amidst a facade of normalcy, all the while knowing that either or both of them could be arrested at any time.

Actor Joel Edgerton, who plays Richard Loving, said that he went to bricklayers school. Loving had worked as a bricklayer and is seen at work in several scenes – Edgerton wanted absolute authenticity in his portrayal of Loving. He also said that he watched Nancy Buirski's documentary film The Loving Story so he could capture the nuances of his character's vocal mannerisms and body language.

"In the documentary we see Richard and Mildred at home, interacting with each other and with their kids," he said. "This gave me a chance to see how they walked and talked, and how they lived their day to day lives."

Edgerton emphasized that he wanted to do more than just mimicry. "What was going on between the two of them?" he wondered. "What was it they felt for each other? What was going on when there weren't cameras in the room? I wanted to capture that."

Nichols said that the scenes involving the couple's arrests and court battles were historically accurate and not based on speculation. "The first two thirds of the events portrayed in the film are pretty well documented," he noted. "Their marriage in Washington DC, the arrests, their exile from Virginia, even Mildred's cousin telling her to write to Bobby Kennedy, it's all been documented."

The end result is a profoundly moving look back at a couple who would not give up. The Lovings knew they were meant for each other. Like their LGBT counterparts decades later, they refused to accept the intolerance of the world around them. As is often the case, love won out.


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