She plays Mildred Loving, a black woman whose anger over being banished from Virginia for marrying a white man led to a landmark Supreme Court ruling. For the Ethiopian-Irish actress, it was a role she couldn’t refuse. “I hadn’t heard of Richard and Mildred before and was completely fascinated, not only because Loving v. Virginia was a landmark civil rights case, but also because theirs is the most beautiful love story,” says Negga. A film that will leave romantics everywhere misty eyed, “Loving” provides a blend of sordid history with good old-fashioned romance.
Based on a true story, written and directed by Jeff Nichols, the film follows actors Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga as Richard and Mildred, an interracial couple who were married in 1958, but were forced to flee the state for violating Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act. “It’s a story of two people in love, not two activists – even though they did change the course of American legal history. All Mildred wanted was to be able to be married to the man she loved and their story just stayed with me.”
Once she had gotten the script pages, the actress holed up in her L.A. hotel room for three days to prepare, trying to channel Mildred as best she could by watching Nancy Buirski’s award-winning HBO documentary “The Loving Story,” which inspired the film. “I watched the documentary over and over again and worked on those scenes from the script like I had never worked on anything before. I felt such an affinity with Mildred and I couldn’t imagine not playing the part,” adds the actress who won the Irish Film & Television Academy Award for her portrayal of singer Shirley Bassey in the film “Shirley.” A melodrama that strikes just the right tone, “Loving” explores how race drove a wedge between two young lovers and compelled them to spend years battling bureaucrats.
As the film opens, we meet Mildred and Richard in their Central Point, Virginia home. Expecting a child together and unable to wed in their segregated home state of Virginia, the couple drive to Washington, D.C. to seal their vows, but five weeks after their wedding, they are arrested. Under a plea bargain, their one-year prison sentences are suspended on the provision that they leave the state of Virginia for a period of twenty- five years — a crushing blow to the couple who have strong family ties in Virginia.
Relocating to Washington, D.C., they move in with Mildred’s cousin, subsequently have three kids, and the film follows the couple as they attempt, unsuccessfully, to comply with the sentence. Inspired by the civil rights movement and its march on Washington, Mildred finally pens a letter to the Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy asking for help. She is referred to the American Civil Liberties Union who take on her case leading to the landmark Supreme Court ruling overturning state miscegenation laws in 1967.
The film benefits greatly from the electrifying performances of its two young leads who sizzle with romantic chemistry. The individual scenes of Edgerton and Negga just acting and connecting are wonderful to watch. Nichols’ fluid feature steadily follows the shy and reserved couple as they weather the uncertainty of their union and focuses more on the Loving’s romance with rarely any physical scenes of the violent racial tension prominent during the era. “We are used to burning crosses and violence reactions to marches, but I showed everything that I could attach to a fact or truth,” Nichols shares. “I put in the harrowing moments I had access to. Instead of inventing something, I just tried to focus on the psychology behind it all, which is that knowledge that at any point someone could infringe on your liberty and your life.”
With persuasive performances, most notably from Negga, the film also stars Alano Miller, Michael Shannon and Terri Abney, who plays her sister Garnet. “People are so enchanted by this couple and theirs is the most beautiful love story,” adds Negga. “I am glad people are feeling outrage as this exposes the narrow minded stupidity of those laws and I also am glad people are shocked. We should all be collectively embarrassed.” Nichols has devised a tender love story between Edgerton and Negga that serves as the main focus of the film’s storyline, and it works beautifully. What “Loving” depicts better than most romances is the transformative power of love. It shows how love can inspire people to overcome great obstacles.
“They really liked and supported one another constantly and respected each other deeply and treated one another as equals,” Negga continues. “They are never dismissive of one another and are each other’s deep well of strength and that is a great love story.”
“Loving” releases in theaters Nov 4
Samantha Ofole-Prince is an entertainment journalist who covers industry-specific news. Follow her on twitter @SamanthaOfole. Photo Credit: Ben Rothstein