Loving, out on DVD in February, tells the story of Richard Loving (Joel Edgerton) and Mildred Jeter Loving (Ruth Negga), an interracial couple who got married in Washington, D.C., in 1958 to avoid Virginia’s anti-miscegenation laws. The courtroom drama surrounding the Lovings’ right to marry doesn’t take center stage, and this isn’t, at its core, a story about law or politics. Instead, Loving is a love story that plays out as the broader civil rights movement happens in the background.
In one scene, Mildred is completely detached as she watches the 1963 March on Washington from her friend’s D.C. apartment. In another, Richard declines to attend the Supreme Court hearing about their case, instructing his lawyer only, “Tell the judge I love my wife.” Their lengthy legal battles get virtually no screen time, although the travails of the inexperienced American Civil Liberties Union attorney Bernie Cohen (Nick Kroll) and his colleague Phil Hirschkop (Jon Bass) are portrayed, including snippets of their arguments before the Supreme Court.
The Lovings in real life were reluctant heroes. When Cohen first suggests taking their case to federal court, Richard asks why they can’t come in front of the judge who gave them the choice of dissolving the marriage and spending a year in jail or leaving Virginia for 25 years. They won’t bother anyone, Richard explains. They want to be left alone.
Loving illustrates how hard getting that simple, civilized wish granted can be when people impose their prejudices through government.