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Regardless of where you fall on the spectrum of political beliefs, it’s impossible to deny that the attention of America is currently focused on the Supreme Court and its ability to change the lives of millions of Americans with a single decision. Some of the most important legal precedents have been set by cases that have gone all the way to the Supreme Court, including many specifically related to the civil rights era. One of the most notable was Loving v. Virginia (1967), and it serves as a reminder that almost fifty years ago, love was most decidedly not colorblind in the eyes of the law.

Yes, a case called “Loving” really does address the legality of interracial marriage, and in reality Richard (Joel Edgerton, Midnight Special (2016), The Great Gatsby (2013)) and Mildred (Ruth Negga, ABC’s Agents of Shield, World War Z (2013)) Loving were simply trying to live their lives together as any other couple would. The film opens in Caroline County, Virginia, with young Mildred (who is black) admitting hesitantly to her (white) boyfriend, Richard, that she is pregnant. His reaction is one of excitement and joy, and shortly thereafter he proposes to her. Since an interracial wedding is illegal in Virginia, Richard and Mildred drive to Washington D.C. for the ceremony and then return home, not realizing that it’s not just that an interracial wedding is illegal, an interracial marriage is as well.

Reality catches up soon enough when the police break into their bedroom a few weeks later and arrest them. Richard is bailed out fairly quickly, but the police refuse to allow him to bail Mildred out, and she’s forced to remain, pregnant, in jail for several days. They are given three options by the judge: dissolve their marriage, prison, or leave the state for twenty-five years. Recognizing that the first two are not really options at all, they move to Washington D.C., only to be arrested again when they return to Virginia for the birth of their child.

After narrowly avoiding prison, they reluctantly live in Washington D.C. for the next several years, seeing their expanding family playing in the city streets instead of the fresh country air that Mildred misses so fiercely. A close call makes up their minds that Virginia is their true home so they sneak back in, but not before Mildred writes to then-Attorney General Robert Kennedy, who passes her letter on to the ACLU. Loving v. Virginia is the result.

Considering the enormous historical and legal significance of the court case, LOVING is by contrast a quiet film that focuses on the relationship, not the struggle. Of everything that Richard and Mildred go through and deal with, the state of their marriage is the most stable factor. We never see the couple fight as the tension around them escalates, on the contrary it only serves to pull them closer together. Initially they only choose to pursue the case so that they can raise their children without fear of legal reprisals in their home state, although later Mildred acknowledges that it may help others as well. Indeed, when their attorney asks Richard if there is anything he wants them to tell the Court, he simply replies “Tell them I love my wife.”

The acting in LOVING is superb, both Negga and Edgerton do full justice to their characters. Richard’s steadfast devotion to his wife never waivers, and although his demeanor is almost reticent, it’s a pleasure watching him relax and laugh in his home. Mildred wants nothing more than to make a comfortable and happy home for her children, husband and extended family. It’s obvious that both actors committed fully to bringing the real Richard and Mildred to the screen in speech, mannerisms and actions.

Audiences going in expecting to see drama in the form of shouting or gavel-banging will be disappointed as none of the courtrooms (aside from the first) are shown. Richard and Mildred even opt not to appear at the Supreme Court, instead finding out about the ruling via a crackling long-distance phone call. Additionally, Caroline County was fairly socially integrated, so there are no moments of cross-burning or nighttime visits from the KKK. That’s not to say there isn’t tension, but it’s communicated in the couple’s worries about their children and each other.

Thankfully, the filmmakers opted to avoid any manufactured drama for the sake of excitement, and LOVING does not suffer for it. This is a film that reminds us that behind the cases which can divide a court and a country then and now, there are people, there are families, and there is love.

Loving is streaming now on the following services:
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