MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
Directed by Jeff Nichols. Starring Ruth Negga, Joel Edgerton.
Richard Loving (Edgerton) is a hard-working bricklayer in Virginia who falls in love with Mildred (Negga). When he hears that she is pregnant, being an honorable man and not seeking to put her to shame, Richard proposes marriage.
Richard is white and Mildred is black. The year is 1958 and interracial marriage is not allowed in the state of Virginia; truth be told, such a union would violate Virginia’s anti-miscegenation laws and possibly result in a prison sentence. Richard and Mildred travel to Washington, D.C. and get married by a justice of the peace. After their return to Virginia the marriage is eventually found out. A local attorney (Bill Camp) represents them well, but the verdict of the court forces them to leave the state of Virginia for 25 years. They leave the wide-open country that they love and their circle of family and friends and relocate to Washington, something less than they had dreamed about when thinking about building a family and building a home.
Years later they are approached by Bernie Cohen (Nick Kroll), a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU wants to appeal the Lovings’ case and seize an opportunity to take it all the way to the Supreme Court and argue for the validity of mixed-race marriages across the country. Richard is fairly taciturn, but Mildred’s desire to have a normal family life gently goads him to become a reluctant participant. The case will eventually involve a photo shoot for Life magazine, moving them into the national spotlight.
Loving is a beautiful and simple film, a true story about the unlikeliest of heroes. Both Richard and Mildred are shy and reserved; left to themselves they would probably have just eked out a quiet and compromised existence. Their desire to live as husband and wife is strong and genuine and serves as a catalyst to provoke the dreams of others. Most people of faith aspire to live out lives of love that would encourage the world to take notice and act, but so often our efforts to be inspirational fall flat, undone by our enthusiasm.
Joel Edgerton’s performance is a study in consistent restraint; constantly holding in check the pain and heartbreak that Richard is feeling. But this is Ruth Negga’s film all the way. As Mildred, her quiet beauty and her consistent faith that things will work out are the heart of the movie. She is luminous onscreen; I couldn’t take my eyes off her. I was unfamiliar with her work, but discovered that she has been acting on television for 12 years and is a regular cast member of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Her performance is unforgettable.
Jesus once said, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth,” (Matthew 5:5 KJV) Loving is a testimony to that beatitude.
One final note: Although Loving is so quiet and gentle in tone that it will surely not appeal to children, it is one of the most family-friendly movies about racism that I have ever seen. There is no profanity or overt sexuality; interracial marriage, family and friendships are presented in a consistently positive fashion. This story of love from half a century ago is worth holding onto as we work and pray for other barriers to fall.
Five halos: A simple and persuasive testament to the power of love and family.
One pitchfork: Themes of prejudice and intolerance.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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