With all the news headlines we have had recently surrounding racial segregation, it is unsurprising that people are afraid. Why? We have been segregated in the past. We have seen the damage it causes. We hoped we had learned from our experience and grown as a species. But as history is so often doomed to repeat itself, here we are again at the brink. And it is scary, especially when you think how far we had come. I am afraid to say I was naive enough to think this sort of legislation was behind us and beneath us.
Watching a film like Loving is a humbling reminder of what we are capable of when ignorance runs freely. It is fitting that it’s release should not just coincide with Black History Month but also our current state of political turmoil. There is a lot of weight on this film, and I am pleased to say it carries it gracefully.
Based on true events, Loving follows Richard and Mildred Loving (Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga respectively), an interracial couple who married in 1958, as they face persecution and prosecution for their so called crimes. After marrying legally in Washington, we discover that the marriage remains illegal in their home town of Virginia. When left with the choice between prison and banishment (seriously, banishment) from their home state, the Lovings opt to raise their beautiful family elsewhere. But their desire to go home is strong and a legal battle ensues that highlights just how ingrained and damaging segregation of cultures can be. Watching this couple struggle to be together simply based on the colour of their skin is oftentimes painful and heartbreaking to watch.
Jeff Nichols has risen to the challenge well. He has taken a legal case out of the courtroom and focused on the effects at home, without overdramatising or overselling the point. The result is something resolutely in touch with reality, reminding us that this is in fact a historic drama we are witnessing. Again, the poignancy of this piece is artful.
Very little is actually said by our two main characters. This can make the film seem slow paced at times, which does limit its audience somewhat. But if you push past this, the understated quietness again adds to the realness of it all. These people existed, and this film is an attempt to portray a true reflection of them. When Richard is in court and is asked what he would like said to the people debating his fate, he could have begged, he could have pleaded. Instead his response is to ‘Tell them I love my wife‘ and that simple statement says it all really.
With so little dialogue between characters, you might think that this entails little emotion. But Nega’s subdued performance somehow stands out, which seems contradictory till you watch it yourself. It is no wonder she has been nominated for an Oscar based on her portrayal of Mildred. She can say more with one look than a whole monologue ever could.
Loving may not be to everyone’s taste; sometimes slow and often quiet, you need some patience to fully appreciate it. But if you do possess this virtue then it is definitely one to put on your watch list. With talented performances and true story at its heart – watch Loving in cinemas and be reminded of how far we have come in recent years. Let’s not let this couple’s fight be in vain.