At the movies, heroes often save the day, get the girl and say all the best lines, but in real life, that's rarely the case. For Richard and Mildred Loving it was their quiet resolve, and the simple motivation that they were stuck in an unfair and unjust situation, that saw them battle for years to attain the very simple right to live together, as husband and wife, in their home state of Virginia. "The Loving Story" is a respectful and at times, eye-opening chronicle of their pursuit to be able to live an honest life.
It's hard to believe, but just over 50 years ago, interracial marriage was still banned in seventeen states, and it took South Carolina and Alabama until 1998 and 2000 respectively, to finally take all their anti-miscegenation language out of state constitution. Thus, when the white Richard Loving and Mildred Jeter (an African American/Native American mix) were married, and subsequently charged for being in an illegal union, they were forced into exile from the small rural town where they lived, to the bustling big city of Washington, D.C. They could not return to Virginia to visit family or friends, or they would risk jail time. There were no organized protests or petitions, instead, it was a single letter written by Mildred to Attorney General Robert Kennedy, that got the ball rolling on their long journey to win the simple right to live under the same roof. Advising them to go the ACLU, the Lovings (a more appropriate name, one could not invent) were finally put into touch with Bernard S. Cohen and Philip J. Hirschkop, two young lawyers just a couple years out of law school, who decided to take on their case.
"The Loving Story" tries to balance both a historical persepctive and a personal one with mixed results. The extensive archival footage and interviews with Cohen and Hirschkop does allow for a clear-eyed, easy to follow discussion of the various legal entanglements the duo had to overcome in order to bring the case to the Supreme Court. Thus when they explain the importance professionally for them of being able to argue in the highest court of the land, you feel the triumph with them. Also aiding in the legal portions of the film are unedited audio from the hearings, which allow for Virginia's defense of their law to come through in all its ignorant glory. But this dogged focus on the various maneuverings means that our knowledge of the Lovings, even with the photographs (beautifully shot by LIFE magazine photographer Grey Villet) and vintage video, is not as detailed as the viewer might hope.
But while we may wish for a fuller picture of the social and political ramifications, Richard and Mildred's devotion to each other is more than enough to carry the film. Buirski has made a picture that brings a sobering perspective to what true commitment really means in a relationship. "The Loving Story" finally sheds some light and gives due recognition to two people who could have easily given up or simply moved somewhere else, who felt deeply (and rightly) they deserved to be together wherever they chose to lay their heads. Moving and insightful, see this with someone you love. [B]
"The Loving Story" premieres on HBO on Feburary 14th at 9 PM.