The Civil Rights Movement is often depicted on film with a dramatic, momentous, and purposeful tone. While this is effective and appropriate for many of the important moments of the movement, these movies often do not leave much space for everyday instances of continued daily resistance that were not initiated as part of a larger political strategy. This is where Loving excels. The movie offers a compelling take on the fight for equality by providing a personal and intimate story of a family disrupted by racism.
Loving, directed by Jeff Nichols, tells the true story of Richard Loving, played by Joel Edgerton, and Mildred Loving, played by Ruth Negga, the white husband and black wife whose interracial marriage became the subject of the Supreme Court Case Loving vs. Virginia, the decision of which would prohibit all anti-miscegenation laws in the United States.
In 1958, after Mildred becomes pregnant, she and Richard cross state lines to Washington D.C., where, unlike their home state of Virginia, mixed-race marriage is legal. The two return home to begin their shared lives, hoping to one day settle down next to their families in a house Richard is set on building himself. When law enforcement officials learn of the marriage, the Lovings are arrested and eventually released on the terms that, under threat of a lengthy prison sentence, they cannot both be in the state at the same time. The two are forced to move to D.C., but they long to return home, and soon they begin illegally crisscrossing between D.C. and Virginia, a risk they continue to take for the next 10 years. Eventually, and then only at the continued request of an ACLU lawyer, played by Nick Kroll, and a constitutional lawyer, played by Jon Bass, who both seem a little distant from the reality that the Lovings live in, do they eventually reach the Supreme Court.
Loving focuses on the husband and wife and the prejudiced gazes directed at them and the acts of violence done upon them. The court case itself is prominent within the film, but is by no means the center of attention. The Lovings in the movie flip-flop between wanting to see justice writ large and simply wanting to get on with the lives they have pledged to each other. Richard is primarily concerned about whether or not he can truly “take care” of his wife, and Mildred is set on doing what’s best for her children. The court case, and the unwanted attention of their neighbors that comes with it, sometime seems to bring more trouble on them than they would like.
But to say that this couple, somewhat reluctant of exposing themselves for political action, were not becoming of Civil Rights heroes would be a grave error. Every day is a fight for them, as the violence and prejudice of their communities and the police arm of the state try to dissolve their bond. They care so deeply for each other and try to do justice to each other. They truly earn the full meaning of their coincidentally perfect last name.
Negga offers a particularly soft and contained, but strong-willed performance as Mildred. Though she risks much by continuing their fight, Mildred eventually allows and pushes the legal battle to continue and graciously, but shyly accepts the media attention baring down on her family. Edgerton, who plays Richard, also excellently inhabits his restrained and laconic character who does not wish for much at all—just a good home and a family. This comes through in a particularly tense scene where a black friend, over a round of drinks, asks Richard why he married a black woman in the first place.
It is the first time this question is explicitly confronted, and Richard Loving does not have an eloquent answer that tackles the ideological or structural character of racism. But he does not need one. Why should he? He and his wife both love each other, and it often is only simple and true acts like this that can change a nation.
— Ryan Fajardo