Movie review: Loving, directed by Jeff Nichols

“On January 6, 1959, the Lovings pled guilty to ‘cohabiting as man and wife, against the peace and dignity of the Commonwealth.'”

Part of the general complaints from the 11% of the critics who did not like the new movie Loving was that it wasn’t exciting enough. The Wife and I saw it at the Spectrum in Albany, and we thought it was wonderfully understated.

This is based on a true story of a couple, a white man named Richard Loving (Joel Edgerton) and a black woman named Mildred Jeter (Ruth Negga) who had the audacity to fall in love in late 1950s Virginia. Mildred gets pregnant, so Richard does the honorable thing and proposes marriage.

But that wasn’t an option in the Dominion State in 1958, which had passed the Racial Integrity Act of 1924, making marriage between whites and non-whites a crime, so they go to Washington, DC to get hitched. They settle back in the small town of Central Point, VA. Based on an anonymous tip, the local police break into their domicile – a terrifying moment in the film – and find the Lovings sleeping in their bed. Mildred pointed out the framed marriage certificate on the bedroom wall, but they were told the certificate was not valid in the Commonwealth.

“On January 6, 1959, the Lovings pled guilty to ‘cohabiting as man and wife, against the peace and dignity of the Commonwealth.’ They were sentenced to one year in prison, with the sentence suspended on condition that the couple leaves Virginia and not return together for at least 25 years,” an apparently generous offer worked out by a local attorney. “After their conviction, the couple moved to the District of Columbia.”

Frustrated by being away from their extended families, and not happy with urban life, Mildred Loving wrote a letter to US Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy. RFK referred her letter to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and young, inexperienced attorney Bernard S. Cohen, who, eventually, with fellow lawyer Philip J. Hirschkop, filed a motion on behalf of the Lovings in the Virginia trial court to “vacate the criminal judgments and set aside the Lovings’ sentences on the grounds that the Virginia miscegenation statutes ran counter to the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause.”

This is a slow legal process, and the taciturn Richard is uncomfortable with the need to get publicity for the case, while Mildred appreciated its strategic importance. The tension might have split up a lesser couple. When the case was to be argued before the Supreme Court, the lawyers asked Richard what he’d want to say to the justices. Richard: “Tell them I love my wife.”

I had written about this case here, specifically Loving Day, on June 12, 1967, the date Loving v. Virginia overturned the laws not only in their case but in 14 other states.

Unfortunately, “Richard Loving died aged 41 in 1975 when a drunk driver struck his car in Caroline County, Virginia. Mildred Loving lost her right eye in the same accident. She died of pneumonia on May 2, 2008, in Milford, Virginia, aged 68. The couple had three children: Donald, Peggy, and Sidney.” Peggy was involved in the making of the movie.

As I suggested, there is tension in this film, but it’s subtle, such a brick around the LIFE magazine article they appear in. This was a mostly quiet, but extremely effective film for which Edgerton and Negga rightly received Golden Globe nominations.

The struggle is long, and its path uneven

Kentucky is arguing a philosophy that was struck down by SCOTUS nearly 50 years ago.

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A friend of mine posted something on Facebook about some local bit of bigotry; there are so many, I can’t keep track. At some level, I become a tad inured, which I reckon is not a good thing. Still, these news stories caught my attention.

ITEM: Tom Cotton Says Critics Of Indiana Should Get ‘Perspective,’ Be Thankful State Doesn’t Execute Gays. It’s amazing! Before he organized that letter that was signed by 47 Republican senators that was sent to Iran during the US government’s negotiations with that country, I didn’t even know who he was.

Now I do recognize the name and face of the freshman senator from Arkansas, but not for any good or noble reasons.

BTW, that so-called Religious Freedom Indiana law was well explained on FOX News. Seriously

ITEM: Lawyers for the state of Kentucky actually put this in legal papers:
“Kentucky’s marriage laws are not facially discriminatory to gays and lesbians based upon their sexual orientation. Kentucky’s marriage laws treat homosexuals and heterosexuals the same and are facially neutral. Men and women, whether heterosexual or homosexual, are free to marry persons of the opposite sex under Kentucky law, and men and women, whether heterosexual or homosexual, cannot marry persons of the same sex under Kentucky law.”

Seriously, I laughed out loud. It was because they were using the exact same structure of an argument as was used by courts in the mid-1960s when trying to uphold rules against mixed-race marriage. “Because its miscegenation statutes punish equally both the white and the Negro participants in an interracial marriage, these statutes, despite their reliance on racial classifications, do not constitute an invidious discrimination based upon race.”

On June 12, 1967, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled, in Loving v. Virginia, that the anti-miscegenation laws of Virginia and 15 other states were unconstitutional. Kentucky is arguing a philosophy that was struck down by SCOTUS nearly 50 years ago. This is not just bigoted thinking, it’s bad lawyering.

ITEM: There is a strong relationship between having higher income inequality in a community and the life expectancy of the people who live there. Moreover, that income inequality in the United States is far greater than most people realize.

And one of the WORST places is the Albany, NY metro, which ranked last in US for black children’s healthy development, according to a front-page story in the Times Union on April 2.

ITEM: Two school districts in Kansas announced that the academic year would end early because they lack sufficient funding to keep the schools open.

“The school closures are just the latest in a series of drastic measures that Kansas public services have been forced to take in recent years, as [Governor Sam ] Brownback’s radical tax cuts have drained state coffers of much-needed revenue.” AND he was re-elected in 2014 by four percentage points.

ITEM: If You Don’t Have a Smart Phone, You Don’t Exist – At Least, Not According to Hollywood. Subtitle: “In TV and film, the idea that only bad guys have flip phones is making the tech divide even wider.”

As my friend Alan noted, “When only poor people and villains are depicted as having non-smartphones, it’s sending a message that I think is probably harmful in the long term. I noticed Reddington [the amoral lead character played by James Spader] was using a burner flip phone last night on The Blacklist. Would not have noticed if I hadn’t read the article.”

ITEM: Study Confirms Tea Party Was Created by Big Tobacco and Billionaire Koch Brothers. This is not a particular surprise to me. “In 2002, the Kochs and tobacco-backed CSE designed and made public the first Tea Party Movement website under the web address www.usteaparty.com;” THAT I did not know.

ITEM: Noam Chomsky on the Roots of American Racism.
“It’s easy to rattle off the usual answers: education, exploring and addressing the sources of the malady, joining together in common enterprises — labor struggles have been an important case — and so on. The answers are right and have achieved a lot. Racism is far from eradicated, but it is not what it was not very long ago, thanks to such efforts. It’s a long, hard road. No magic wand, as far as I know.”

L is for Loving Day

As late as 1987, a full 20 years after the Loving v. Virginia ruling, only 48% of Americans said it was acceptable for blacks and whites to date. That number has since jumped to 83%, according to the Pew Research Center.

I can’t believe I missed it. OK, until I read about it in TIME magazine, I’d never even heard of it, though it’s been going on for a half dozen years. There’s a group that has called for Loving Day Celebrations around June 12th each year “to fight racial prejudice through education and to build multicultural community.”

The celebration is named for Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving, who had the audacity to fall in love with each other. Unable to get married legally in their native Virginia – he was white, she was black – they got hitched in Washington, DC and “established their marital abode in Caroline County”, Virginia.

Ultimately, on “January 6, 1959, the Lovings pleaded guilty to the charge” stemming from their interracial marriage, “and were sentenced to one year in jail; however, the trial judge suspended the sentence for a period of 25 years on the condition that the Lovings leave the State and not return to Virginia together for 25 years. He stated in an opinion that:

“‘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.'”

The Lovings moved to DC, and in 1963, took legal action against the state of Virginia. Meanwhile, Mildred Loving also wrote to US Attorney General Robert Kennedy for assistance, and he referred the Lovings to an ACLU lawyer who took the case pro bono. The Lovings lost at every court, with the primary reasoning being that “because its miscegenation statutes punish equally both the white and the Negro participants in an interracial marriage, these statutes, despite their reliance on racial classifications, do not constitute an invidious discrimination based upon race.”

However, their case made it to the US Supreme Court, and on June 12, 1967, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled, in Loving v. Virginia, that the anti-miscegenation laws of Virginia and 15 other states were unconstitutional. Chief Justice Earl Warren, writing for the Court, concluded:

These statutes also deprive the Lovings of liberty without due process of law in violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men.

Marriage is one of the “basic civil rights of man,” fundamental to our very existence and survival. To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment is surely to deprive all the State’s citizens of liberty without due process of law. The Fourteenth Amendment requires that the freedom of choice to marry not be restricted by invidious racial discriminations. Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State.

These convictions must be reversed.

Interestingly, the polling I’ve seen suggests that at the time of the ruling, less than 30% of Americans favored mixed marriages. From TIME:

As late as 1987, a full 20 years after the case, only 48% of Americans said it was acceptable for blacks and whites to date. That number has since jumped to 83%, according to the Pew Research Center. In 2010, the center estimated that 1 in 7 new marriages in the U.S. is now an interracial coupling. In 1961, the year Obama’s parents married, only 1 in 1,000 marriages included a black person and a white person; today, it’s 1 in 60.

In statistics for 2008, 14.6 percent of all marriages were between spouses of different races.

In 2010, there is a Republican running for Congress, Jim Russell, who wrote in 2001, “In the midst of this onslaught against our youth, parents need to be reminded that they have a natural obligation, as essential as providing food and shelter, to instill in their children an acceptance of appropriate ethnic boundaries for socialization and for marriage.” I wrote about him extensively here, and he is hardly alone. So I guess the Loving Day folks still have much work to do.
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Pete Seeger – All Mixed Up

ABC Wednesday – Round 7