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USA 2011
Directed by
Nancy Buirski
77 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Chris Thompson
4 stars

The Loving Story

Synopsis: On June 2, 1958, a white man named Richard Loving and his part-black, part-Cherokee fiancée, Mildred Jeter, travelled from Caroline County, Virginia to Washington, D.C. and were married. At that time, interracial marriage was illegal in 21 states, including Virginia. Back home two weeks later, the newlyweds were arrested, tried and convicted of the felony crime of "miscegenation." To avoid a one-year jail sentence, the Lovings agreed to leave the state and able only return to Virginia separately. Distressed by their exile and the stark contrast of urban ghetto life compared to their rural home, Mildred took the advice of her cousin and wrote a letter to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, who wrote back suggesting she get in touch with the American Civil Liberties Union where they met two young lawyers, Bernard S. Cohen and Philip J. Hirschkop, who, at a time when many Americans were vehement about segregation and maintaining the "purity of the races", took the Lovings' case all the way to the Supreme Court.

“Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.”  This quote from the ruling by Caroline County Circuit Court Judge Leon M Bazile against the appeal of the Lovings’ original conviction not only provided the trigger for the ACLU lawyers’ to progress the case through the justice system, but is also how first time documentary filmmaker, Buirski, has chosen to open her film. It’s shockingly  blunt sentiment provides the perfect context for this excellent documentary produced by HBO.

It’s quite fortuitous that, despite having secretly moved back to Virginia and living in hiding on a backwoods property, the Lovings seem to have agreed to quite a bit of media coverage, including television news footage and, most notably, the very beautiful photo essay by Life Magazine photographer Gray Villet published in March 1966. This visual material provides much of the narrative to the film which reveals the sheer ordinariness of their lives. But what makes it really fascinating is when the archival footage is intercut with the contemporary footage of both lawyers; we see them as young idealists exuding confidence in their ability to win this landmark case – cut to – their much older selves looking back on the case with a much more tempered view of the enormity of what they took on. Add to this the revealing contemporary interview with former Caroline County Deputy Sherriff Kenneth Edwards who speaks about how he never really held with what his boss was doing.  All this is much more than a encapsulation of a critical time in the Civil Rights movement in America; it is a considered and thoughtful reflection on that time by those who lived through it and played key roles on either side of the story.

Curiously, whilst they became so significant to the issues of the time, the Lovings themselves seem virtually unconnected to many of the major events. We see footage of the march on Washington and Martin Luther King’s address to the throng but they were not there, choosing instead to watch it on television. And when the opportunity to have their moment in front of the judges of the Supreme Court arrives, they declined it. Perhaps it was the shy, taciturn demeanour of Richard that drove this reluctance for the spotlight. Certainly this comes through, as does Mildred’s drive and determination to see the right thing done and her eloquence in expressing their views. But what is overwhelmingly clear in amongst the legal and media machinations that surround this nine years of their lives, is their capacity for love; their love for each other, their love for their children and the power of a strong, loving family.




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