LOVING: Jeff Nichols Significant Film of Real-Life Interracial Marriage is Serious Oscar Contender

Jeff Nichols’ LOVING world premiered (in competition) at the 2016 Cannes Film Fest.  Though the film left the festival empty-handed, it was well-liked by many critics and should serve as serious Oscar contender in the upcoming awards season.

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Why didn’t I know about this story before?
This is a common query when people “suddenly” discover landmarks and breakthroughs human rights cases from the past (both distant and recent).  The issues may be legal, social, or political, concerning the very right to vote, abortion, same-sex marriage, transgenderism, ethnic discrimination–and forbidden interracial love.

The intriguing real-life case of Richard and Mildred Loving is told in a fresh and bold way by the acclaimed writer-director Jeff Nichols in a movie that could not be more aptly titled, LOVING.

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“I was struck by the simplicity of their beautiful love story,” said the filmmaker in a Cannes Fest press conference, explaining his own (deceptively) simple approach to committing this important story onto the big screen.

With LOVING, Nichols, perhaps best known until now for his art-house indies, Take Shelter and Mud, has made his broadest, most accessible feature to date; and I use these terms in their positive meaning.

Basic Facts:

Richard, who was white, and Mildred, who was a mixture of African-American and Native-American, perceived themselves as–and were–an ordinary couple from Central Point, Virginia.  Like other couples in love, they decided to get married and start a family of their own.

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Illegal Love?

loving_1_edgerton_nicholsYet, at that time, in Virginia, what they did was against the law and so they were arrested soon after getting married.  As the plaintiffs in Loving v. Virginia, they went on to become the catalysts for a Supreme Court decision, which abolished anti-miscegenation laws in the U.S., i.e. laws against interracial marriage.

In establishing marriage as a fundamental human right, Loving v. Virginia is still frequently cited in court cases today, most recently in cases that have challenged ban on gay and lesbian marriages.
Interestingly, the Lovings were not political individuals or social activists; they only expected that their fully legal marriage in Washington D.C. would enable them to live peacefully in their hometown of Central Point.

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Initially, they made no appeal after they were arrested for violating Virginia’s anti-miscegenation laws. Instead, they agreed to a plea bargain that effectively banished them from their home state.

When the Lovings finally sought legal aid in 1963, their sole aim was to be able to get back to and live normal lives in their home.

It was as late as 1965, at the urging of their attorneys, Bernard Cohen and Philip Hirschkop, that the couple agreed to go public with their story and talk to the media.

After the Supreme Court handed down its decision in their favor in June 1967, the Lovings did what they intended all along.  They went back to their everyday lives and to raising their three children in Central Point.  They also rarely gave interviews.

Documentary: The Loving Story

In 2008, the surviving member of the couple, Mildred, passed away. Reading about Mildred, documentary filmmaker Nancy Buirski was moved by the Lovings’ unshakable devotion to one another and by the current relevance of their case to similar situations.

Buirski decided to make a documentary feature about Richard and Mildred Loving. Her research led her to former ABC News producer Hope Ryden, who had spent hours filming the Lovings at home in 1965 and 1967. That footage and other archival resources, including photos by Life Magazine photographer Grey Villet, were utilized by Buirski in writing, producing, and directing THE LOVING STORY.

The documentary played at festivals in 2011 before being shown on HBO on Valentine’s Day, 2012.  Having won a Peabody Award and an Emmy Award, among other honors, the docu captivated audiences and critics alike with its depiction of a courageous couple who, above all else, were very much in love.

Enter Oscar Winner-Producer Colin Firth
One of those captivated viewers was Oscar-winning actor Colin (The King’s Speech) Firth, who was already aware of the documentary.  Buirski had been in contact with Firth regarding a feature version of the story after learning from Firth’s wife Livia of his interest in American politics and social history.

By 2009, Buirski and Firth, seeking the proper narrative structure for such an unusual story, began working on a screenplay.

In January 2011, Firth informed Buirski that he was launching with Ged Doherty a production company, Raindog Films, and that as first project, he had brought up to Doherty a narrative version of THE LOVING STORY.  Buirski remembers, “Colin had just won the Golden Globe Award for The King’s Speech but I was the one who was overjoyed!” Buirski remembers.

Doherty remarks, “Colin was very taken with the simplicity of the story, with how this ordinary couple made a huge difference in the lives of other couples.

It’s only May and the awards season has not begun yet, but as of today, it’s the only American feature that strikes me as Oscar-caliber, or Oscar material.

If LOVING is nominated for the Best Picture Oscar, it will join the company of other respectable social problem films that have been nominated for (or won) Oscar Gold.

Here is a reminder:

The Best Years of Our Lives (William Wyler), Best Picture, 1946

Gentleman’s Agreement (Elia Kazan), Best Picture, 1947

On the Waterfront (Elia Kazan), Best Picture, 1954

In the Heat of the Night (Norman Jewison), Best Picture, 1967

Kramer Vs. Kramer (Robert Benton), Best Picture, 1979

Chariots of Fire (Hugh Hudson), Best Picture, 1981

Driving Miss Daisy (Bruce Beresford), Best Picture, 1989

Crash (Paul Haggis), Best Picture, 2005

12 Years a Slave (Steve McQueen), Best Picture, 2012

Spotlight (Tom McCarthy), Best Picture, 2015

 

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