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'Loving' Tells the Subtle, Personal Side of Supreme Court History

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on December 06, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

If you're looking for a break this week, might we recommend 'Loving,' the new-ish film written and directed by Jeff Nichols? The film tells the story of Richard and Mildred Loving, the interracial couple whose relationship led to the Supreme Court's landmark Loving v. Virginia decision invalidating anti-miscegenation laws and declaring marriage a fundamental civil right -- a decision which continues to reverberate today.

'Loving' isn't a courtroom drama. You won't see great legal oration or be regaled by high-minded judicial arguments. (The legal battles take place largely off screen.) What you will see, however, is a masterful telling of a pivotal moment in American history, played out in the small and intimate details of the Lovings' relationship.

From Love to Exile to the Supreme Court

'Loving' is a fictional retelling of the Lovings' early life together, from their marriage in 1958 to their triumph in the Supreme Court nearly a decade later.

The film opens with Mildred Jeter (played by Ruth Negga) telling her future husband, Richard Loving (played by Joel Edgerton), that she's pregnant. "Good," he says. "That's real good."

But she is black and he is white and in Caroline County, Virginia, in 1958, the state didn't view their relationship as "good." To marry, they are forced to travel to Washington, D.C., with only Mildred's father by their side.

They return home and begin planning their life. Richard has bought an acre of land. He's designing their new house. Their marriage license is framed and hung on the wall.

Soon, however, the local police are kicking in their bedroom door, dragging the sleeping couple off to jail. They're eventually banned from entering Virginia together for 25 years and exiled to Washington, D.C. Mildred's endless homesickness and a letter to Robert Kennedy eventually combine to create a muted form of activism, a reluctant willingness to challenge Virginia's racist laws, if not out of political righteousness then an slow and strong burning desire for love and family. The ACLU becomes involved and the rest, as they say, is Con Law 101.

The Subtle Loving Behind 'Loving'

Actually, Con Law 101 might be a bad comparison. Most legal professionals will remember the Lovings' case from law school, but the film provides a very different perspective. Nick Kroll (of 'The Kroll Show,') gives a great performance as the young civil rights lawyer Bernie Cohen, but it's clear that the Lovings have only a vague understanding of the significance of their case. Their battle is, as with so many litigants, much more personal.

It's the story of a couple trying to make sense of their predicament, and it's told on an incredibly human scale, slow and measured, through small touches and long stares as much as through dialogue. It's history being made with a caress in the supermarket and laughter on the couch, rather than political speeches and constitutional precedent.

It's a history told well by the subtle, inward-facing, fantastic acting of Negga and Edgerton, which will hopefully be remembered come awards season.

The film was released in limited markets in November, but has since made it to theaters across the country, where you still have a chance to catch it.

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