Apart from Paterson’s, Loving’s press conference was perhaps the most thoughtful and sincere press conference offered at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival. For any avid filmgoer the press conferences for the films at Cannes are devoured, almost instantaneously seen as soon as they are available on YouTube. Perhaps trivial of me, but I remember viewing the press conference for Jeff Nichols’s Loving. I was spending time at my girlfriend’s house- me sitting at her brother’s desk watching the press conference, her lounging on his bed.
She prefers comedies to dramas and TV to movies, so Loving wouldn’t exactly be a film that we would watch together. Nonetheless, the media asks Jeff, Ruth, and Joel their questions and my girlfriend becomes curious and asks me questions about the conference and about the movie. She noticed the sincerity of the words being spoken in the conference and recognized the thought and consideration that was put into the movie in order to depict the lives of the Loving’s with reverence.
I start to explain to her the case of Loving v. Virginia (1967, result was that laws could no longer prohibit interracial marriage) and around the same time Chaz Ebert– the wife of late film critic Roger Ebert– asks Jeff a question about the descendants of the Loving family and notes that she remembers the Supreme Court case and the photographs of Richard and Mildred Loving that appeared in Life magazine. I shouldn’t have been surprised that Chaz attended this press conference, but it was remarkable to hear from someone in the media who experienced firsthand the stigmas of interracial marriage that the Loving family had faced. Without Loving v. Virginia, Roger and Chaz would have never been able to marry.
I feel some guilt that I had never heard of Loving v. Virginia prior to the film’s release, although the case was never mentioned in any history class I had taken (this is a clear mistake- it needs to be taught). Ultimately, the historical significance of the case will eclipse the importance of any film about it yet Nichols’s film will tell the story of the Loving’s to many who hadn’t heard of their story before.
Jeff Nichols was inspired to make Loving after seeing a documentary on the couple. His casting of Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga was with the intention to, as close as possible, replicate the appearances, mannerisms, and dialogue of Richard (Joel Edgerton) and Mildred (Ruth Negga) Loving. Looking back at the press conference after seeing the movie, Joel’s and Ruth’s personalities appear as similar to their acting in Loving. Richard and Mildred Loving are soft-spoken, photogenic people who represent the everymen and everywomen. The best scenes in Loving are those that are sparse with dialogue. While silent, Joel appears humble and strong while Ruth appears thoughtful and hopeful- the qualities that Nichols hoped to capture in their characters.
What little words Richard does speak indicate his childlike innocence- he earnestly does not comprehend why there are those who are against interracial marriages and of the significance of the case. He is a simple man who prefers to keep to himself. Richard is anxious about receiving press attention and interviews, but he complies with them because of Mildred’s belief that their case has a chance of succeeding and would help other interracial couples.
In Loving, many shots of the film are dedicated to close-ups of hands doing manual labor, cooking, and sharing meals around the dinner table. The couple live a simple life in the country until they are forced to leave Virginia following pleading guilty to mixed-race marriage in a local trial. As the couple raises a family, Mildred laments that her children are not able to run and play outside to the extent that she was able to as a child. Their house in the city forms a “cage” around the family that entraps them all the same as their inability to rejoice in their marriage within Virginia. Loving is not a courtroom drama- it is a character drama. Richard and Mildred’s story is one of gentle, loving people.