Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Loving (4½ Stars)

"Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow and red, and He placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with His arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that He separated the races shows that He did not intend for the races to mix. (Judge Leon Bazile, January 22nd, 1965).

I've been waiting to see this film for months. The story fascinated me. It's a true story, supposedly well known in America, but I had never heard about it until a few months ago.

In 1958 Richard Loving -- a very appropriate name -- was a 25 year old construction worker in Caroline County, Virginia. When his 18-year-old girlfriend Mildred Jeter became pregnant he asked her to marry him. The problem is that they weren't allowed to marry, because he was white and she was black. Issues like that were governed by state laws, not by federal laws, so they travelled to Washington D.C. to get married. On returning home their house was raided by the police and they were arrested. As the sheriff pointed out, it wasn't a problem that they lived together or even that Mildred was pregnant, because white men were allowed to have black whores. The crime was that they were married, because they were expressing that marriage between different races was something normal.

In court they were sentenced to one year in prison, but the sentence was suspended on condition that they left Virginia immediately and didn't return together for 25 years. They went to live with Mildred's relatives in Washington. Richard kept his job in Caroline County, even though he had to drive 85 miles to work every day. At first they were happy together, but slowly it became a burden for Mildred as she had first one, then two, then three children. She had lived all her life in the countryside, and life in a city was unbearable for her. In 1963 she wrote to the American attorney general, Robert Kennedy, and asked for help overturning the ruling. Two young inexperienced lawyers were appointed to represent them by the American Civil Liberties Union. That was the beginning of a long, hard court battle.

The two lead actors put on excellent performances. Both Richard and Mildred were uneducated, although Mildred had more natural intelligence. Richard didn't understand much of what was happening, so he kept his head down and did what he was told. Mildred was more astute and willing to fight for justice. Actors are highly educated people, it's in the nature of their work, so Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga do an excellent job in dumbing themselves down, if you understand what I mean. Richard loved his wife, but he was a man of few words and didn't know how to express it. Mildred was an outwardly emotional woman, which we see in Ruth Negga's facial expressions every time the camera lingers on her. She was nominated for an Oscar as Best Actress, but she lost to Emma Stone in "La La Land". That's totally ridiculous! Sometimes I wonder if the Academy Award judges ever take time to watch the films they vote for.

The couple are now remembered on June 12th every year, celebrated as Loving Day. I've only found out about it now. Please remind me to celebrate it next year.

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