*In today’s America, it’s not unusual to see interracial couples who are dating, or have married. These interracial relationships can be found in just about every geographical sector of the country, and in every walk of life.
Yet, for centuries – at least from 1667 to well into the 1900s – such interracial relationships in America, especially in the South, were often taboo, against the law in certain states, and frequently very dangerous.
On Friday, Nov. 4, a powerful story of an interracial marriage that shocked most of America will be told, when Focus Films’ “Loving” opens in theaters across the country.
The film, starring Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga, tells the true and epic story of Richard and Mildred Loving, an interracial married couple, who in 1958 was sentenced to one year in jail by a Virginia court because of their marriage. Richard Loving, who was white and Mildred Loving, who was black, became plaintiffs (Loving v. Virginia) in a 1967 Supreme Court decision that ultimately invalidated Virginia laws that prohibited interracial marriage.
Written and directed by Jeff Nichols, the film was also inspired by the 2011 documentary, “The Loving Story,” written, directed and produced by Nancy Buirski for HBO.
“I didn’t know about this story until Nancy showed me her documentary,” Nichols told a roundtable of entertainment media representatives, including Lee Bailey of EURweb.com. “What I saw was one of the greatest love stories, maybe in American history.”
Bailey asked Nichols about his decision to cast Negga as Mildred Loving.
“Ruth was the first person to audition,” explained Nichols. “At first, I thought she was too short, because Mildred was very tall. But, when Ruth sat down, her posture changed, and that voice changed and really came out. It was apparent that she had been studying the archival footage and ‘Loving’ documentary. Ruth just absorbed this woman Mildred. When the audition was done, I knew, at least in my mind, the die was cast, and Ruth was Mildred.”
Negga, who was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, was intrigued by the role, after doing her homework.
“I credit Nancy for providing the groundwork through her documentary,” Negga said. Because I was shocked to find out that there was a lack of information on this couple, considering their legacy, and considering they were people who changed legislation through the Supreme Court.”
Bailey asked Negga to describe her challenges associated with the part/film.
“It was all a challenge because I, and the entire cast, wanted to tell the story in a truthful and authentic manner as possible,” Negga said. “The real challenge was I wanted to be the best conduit for Mildred. It was a loving challenge, with very concentrated energy. The focus was there to really engage and explore this couple’s story.”
“I never heard about the story,” said Edgerton, a native of Australia. “But, on further examination, I was drawn to the characters of Richard and Mildred because of their relationship. They had a real love story. I fell in love with them both as people who didn’t deserve the situation of injustice. And Ruth was the icing on the cake, because she cared so much about the story. She is a great actress; working with her was beyond just doing a job.”
Terri Abney, who played the role of Garnet Jeter, Mildred’s sister, was asked to inject her feelings about the film.
“The entire journey of making this movie was incredible and surreal,” she said. “I’m grateful that I got the role, because I really wanted it. I hope my character will inspire people. I was familiar with the case, because when I was 17 years old, I went to C.D. Hylton High School in Woodbridge Virginia. I learned about the case in my Virginia history class.”
“This story should be taught in all schools because it’s relevant,” he said. “The debates that we have now about race, Richard and Mildred showed us how to have these conversations, because they remind us that people are at the center of all of this.”
Bailey asked Nichols about his reasons for not using a backstory to connect moviegoers to how Richard and Mildred met.
“I get bored by that stuff,” Nichols said. “When you ask me about the backstory, I’m thinking about all these things that I put into the film that representative of that backstory, which is not given in a linear way or traditional way. They met each other when they were young, grew up across the road from each other, and looked longingly at each other…that’s not the kind of movie I make.”
“I wanted representational scenes. I want a scene that in the moment plays on its own. You can see that Richard and Mildred had an intimate relationship with each other. You can see the way they relate to one another, the way they touch one another that they have a deep love and affection for one another. All these details are the backstories. As a story teller that loathes exposition, you have to find ways to put those road marks out there for people to pick up on them.”
Edgerton summarized what he hopes the film will do for moviegoers.
“I hope the film will raise awareness,” he said. “Because the story of Richard and Mildred holds a big place on the Civil Rights Movement’s timeline. Their case changed the Constitution; that’s not a little thing to do.”
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