In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries most American states enacted anti-miscegenation laws prohibiting interracial marriage; only a handful, mostly in the north-east, never introduced any legislation of this sort. During the early and mid-twentieth century attitudes began to change, and the northern and western states began to repeal these laws, especially after California's anti-miscegenation statute was struck down as unconstitutional by that state's Supreme Court in 1948. There was, however, one part of the country where attitudes did not change. By 1967 there was a stark geographical divide. In every single one of the former slave states of the Deep South, except Maryland, interracial marriage was still illegal. In every other part of the country it was lawful. "Loving" tells the true story of Richard Mildred Loving, a couple from Caroline County, Virginia. Because Richard was white and Mildred black, they were forced to travel to Washington DC to get married, but in 1958 Virginia refused to recognise interracial marriages performed in other states; indeed, state law made it a criminal offence for Virginia residents to travel out of the state to enter into such a marriage. Richard and Mildred were arrested and charged with breaking this law; they were sentenced to a year in jail, but the judge agreed to suspend the sentence if they would leave Virginia and not return for 25 years. The Lovings moved to Washington, but did not like living in the city, and grew nostalgic for a return to the Virginia countryside. With the aid of the ACLU they petitioned the Virginia courts for a review of their case and, when this was denied, took the matter all the way to the US Supreme Court. The Supreme Court's decision in Loving v. Virginia, which took place in 1967, finally invalidated America's surviving anti-miscegenation laws and is regarded as a major milestone in the civil rights struggle. This could have been an inspiring film about an inspiring story, so it is a pity that the film as actually made is so dull. Part of the reason, I think, is paradoxically that the film-makers were so keen to stick to the historical truth. Although the sixties were a period of racial tensions across America, particularly in the South, these tensions do not appear to have affected Caroline County to any great extent, and the Lovings appear to have experienced very little hostility or bitterness from their neighbours. Richard and Mildred are portrayed throughout as deeply in love with one another. As played by Joel Edgerton, Richard comes across as a stolid, good-natured man who rarely displays much emotion other than affection for his wife. Mildred, as played by Ruth Negga, at first seems rather passive, but later emerges as a stronger character; she, for example, seems more determined than her husband to pursue their legal action. Any differences between them, however, do not seem to have led to serious tensions in their marriage, and they are never shown arguing with one another. Now I am not arguing that the film-makers should have invented conflicts where none existed in reality for the sake of a good story; too many films supposedly based on historical fact have done that sort of thing for me to be happy with it. The film, however, seems altogether devoid of any sources of tension, and it certainly would have been possible for the film-makers to have found some. Given that the film tells the story of a court case, I am surprised that no attempt was made to turn it into a courtroom drama and that we see so little of the actual court proceedings. We never even hear the arguments which the State of Virginia put forward in order to justify their position, the counter-arguments put forward by the Lovings' lawyers or the reasons why the Supreme Court found in their favour. Not only does the film lack tension, it is also overlong and moves too slowly. Yes, it tells a worthy, uplifting feelgood story about the triumph of reason over prejudice. It's just a pity that they tried so hard to make it worthy that they forgot to make it interesting. 4/10
The story of Richard and Mildred Loving, a couple whose arrest for interracial marriage in 1960s Virginia began a legal battle that would end with the Supreme Court's historic 1967 decision.
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April 5, 2019