The most striking thing about Mildred and Richard Loving is that they never wanted to be known. They just wanted to come home to Virginia to be near their families. They are the namesake of the landmark Supreme Court case that struck down the anti-miscegenation laws still on the books in 16 states some 13 years after school segregation was deemed unconstitutional. These laws constituted one of the last formal vestiges of the Jim Crow era, and this film shows for the first time what it took to bring them down.
Even as they changed America, the Lovings were never a household name. In , after five years of sneaking back and forth to visit their families, Mildred wrote to Attorney General Robert Kennedy asking for help. Kennedy referred her to the American Civil Liberties Union, which put two young attorneys on the case.
Asked by his lawyer whether he he had anything to say to the Supreme Court, Richard replied: The film opens with an extended scene of Mildred helping their daughter, Peggy, put on her socks and shoes. Richard, dressed in jeans and a work shirt, has his back to the camera. The Lovings had no idea they were going to change America. That was our goal.
They preferred to stay home. When their lawyer, Bernard Cohen, asked Richard whether he had anything to say to the justices, he replied simply: Much has changed in the past 45 years. In a poll of Mississippi voters last April, nearly half of the registered Republicans said they thought interracial marriage should be illegal. Most Americans are okay with black-white marriage—a national poll this past September found that a record number approved.
As of , only , married couples in the US—fewer than 1 percent—consisted of a black spouse and a white spouse. These couples are also relatively rare in mainstream media—or at least realistic representations of them. And while the film pushed boundaries with its subject matter, it revolved around the mere existence of an interracial couple as opposed to their relationship. Speaking as one half of an interracial couple, I find the latter approach most common these days.
Indeed, in real-world interracial relationships, race is impossible to ignore. None of this, obviously, compares with what the Lovings faced on a daily basis. But there are still fears: And what do we do when our families say things that embarrass us? The most compelling aspect of The Loving Story, ultimately, is the normalcy of the life it depicts—the normalcy this family was fighting for.
If anything, I was hoping it would provide even more personal insight into the family. For while there are interviews with daughter Peggy and some family friends, Richard and Mildred are no longer with us—and one of their two sons has also died.
If a documentary can inspire us to look past the politics and punditry to recognize the humanity of the people our laws demonize, then it has certainly done the nation a service.