“Tell the judge that I love my wife.”
That line, which Richard Loving says to his lawyer before the Supreme Court hearing, is in many ways a nice summary of the film. The story of Richard and Mildred Loving is about many things. It’s about civil rights, racism, race relations, identity politics, and constitutional law, but more than anything else, it’s about the love of a husband and wife.
Perhaps we should back up. You see, Richard is white. Mildred is black. And in their home state of Virginia, interracial marriage is illegal. But Richard and Mildred love each other. And seeing how Mildred discovers she’s pregnant, Richard concludes the responsible thing to do is to marry. So they get married in Washington DC and then drive back to Virginia. That doesn’t go very well. In fact, they’re arrested, in what would be the start of a very long court battle.
While this is obviously a biopic about a landmark Supreme Court Case, it doesn’t quite feel like it. Instead, it just feels like it’s about them. Richard and Mildred have no aspirations of great social change. They are perhaps two of the most understated personalities to be connected to the movement. Richard in particular doesn’t want all of the attention. In fact, he asks their lawyer “Can’t you just tell (the local Virginia judge) that if he lets us back in the state, we won’t bother nobody?”
That meekness that they both show (although Richard gets the majority of the focus) shows in many ways a very Christian response. Despite the many people that tell Richard he’s made a mistake by marrying Mildred, including his own mother (her focus admittedly seems pragmatic rather than racist), he never responds in kind with their hatred. His own statement that “we won’t bother nobody” lives out the biblical mandate to “live peaceably with all men.” He just loves his wife and his kids, and wants to provide for them like any other decent husband and father.
And yet it should be noted that religion is invoked during the film, and not in a good way. The Virginia judge, as well as the local sheriff, invoke God’s created order as an argument against interracial marriage. God created the races and placed them on separate continents, the argument goes, which is evidence that God wanted them kept separate. The argument is ludicrous, of course, and the races were not created separately but developed over time from a genetic code with great potential diversity (for more on this, see the book One Blood by Ken Ham). But the unfortunate fact is that this argument being used is historically accurate. It’s highly unpleasant, but its use in the film can hardly be called unfair.
The institutional racism is not limited to the judge and cops. Early on in the film, a group of white men at the drag races leer at the couple with disgust. After their case receives more publicity, an anonymous co-worker of Richard’s puts a brick through his car window. Another attempts to follow Richard home. But even as Richard struggles through all of these events, Mildred never loses her sense of optimism. In fact, through her, the film is perhaps a tad too optimistic, as though it is always sure that the right outcome will result for the couple, which would have been an incredibly naive assumption at the time.
Loving is a resounding success in all of the important ways. It shows the injustice of an American civil rights issue, and shows a great example of meekness under fire. Aside from a couple of discussion points that parents will want to take with their children (why pregnancy before marriage is not a good idea, and how some people are twisting the Bible to say unchristian things about race), this is a movie I can wholeheartedly recommend, especially on Valentine’s Day.