At the Myrna Loy
Courage often comes with consequences.
When a white man married a black woman in a state that regarded interracial marriage as a felony, it’s hard to imagine they would live happily ever after.
In 1958 in Caroline County, Virginia, a white bricklayer named Richard Loving married his black girlfriend Mildred Jeter, after she became pregnant.
They were soon arrested and charged under the “miscegenation laws” that enforced racial segregation. Such repressive laws were eventually repealed, but some states were painfully reluctant to do so. Virginia’s law against interracial marriage was still being enforced in the late 1950s.
Richard and Mildred were sentenced to 25 years in jail, but were given a suspended sentence if they would move out of state. If they returned, they would serve out their term.
Initially the couple moved, but when the baby was due, Mildred wanted to be near her family and returned home. Arrested again, the judge gave them one more reprieve because of the birth of the child. They left a second time.
But inflamed by the injustice and supported by the ACLU, Richard and Mildred decided to return home and take their fight to court -- at the risk of life in prison. The case eventually reached the U.S. Supreme Court, leading to the ruling that legalized interracial marriage.
The low-key film “Loving” retells the story without resorting to melodrama or overt violence. The focus is on Mildred who decides to risk life in jail to oppose an unjust law. Richard was more hesitant, but he supported his gutsy wife.
The film tells two stories.
The first is the legal drama culminating in a ruling that reinterpreted the constitution.
The second story involves the racial bigotry that simmered in Virginia. Richard received threats at work and at home. Richard and Mildred lived in fear, but refused to buckle.
“Loving” is a very slow film, that takes an hour to build up momentum. We eventually wake up thanks to a powerful performance by Ruth Negga as Mildred. It’s worthy of an Oscar nomination.
Joel Edgerton is sufficient but not memorable, portraying the bricklayer in a rather one-dimensional way -- always stoic, always quiet.
Negga, an Ethiopian-Irish actress, on the other hand, takes us on a journey from quiet, shy and timid to quiet, assertive and determined. Her decision to risk 25 years in jail in defense of a basic human right was remarkable given her unassuming nature. No one would have picked her as a likely civil rights crusader.
Mildred lived out the wisdom of Mother Teresa, who once said, "Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.”
“Loving” reminds us that history is not always made by those who bluster and shout. Oft times a person in the shadows leads from behind without waiting for others to follow.
“Loving” is a tribute to the quiet saints among us who too often are undervalued until they’re gone. Only then, when we sense the hole left in our community, will their legacy be appreciated.
Thank you, Mildred.