Loving pro Virginia: A Films’ Powerfully Poignant Depiction of a Family’s Longing for Home

By Hannah Quinque

“I wan­na move ’em back to the country.

I don’t care what they do to us.

I won’t raise my fam­i­ly here.”

The 2016 art­house film Lov­ing, direct­ed by Jeff Nichols, has already run one hour and nine min­utes before Mil­dred Lov­ing express­es her unwill­ing­ness to com­ply with the court sen­tence that for­bids the fam­i­ly to reside in their home state of Vir­ginia. Her deci­sion sets them on a path of no return. The route takes their case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Lov­ing v. Vir­ginia will pave the way toward freely mar­ry­ing, liv­ing, and lov­ing for inter­ra­cial cou­ples in the Unit­ed States (for cou­ples, which fit het­ero- and cis­nor­ma­tive stan­dards, that is.) At first glance, the desire to return to Vir­ginia might appear at odds with the vio­lent­ly hate­ful treat­ment Mil­dred and Richard Lov­ing expe­ri­enced at the hands of Vir­gin­ian author­i­ties amidst betray­al by one of their neigh­bors. At sec­ond glance, how­ev­er, the film shows that the Lov­ings’ love for their home and home state is as much a dri­ving force behind the strug­gle for equal rights as is their love for each other.

Mildred’s final deci­sion to return to Vir­ginia fol­lows after their child Don is hit by a car in the busy Wash­ing­ton neigh­bor­hood. One of the most action-dri­ven scenes in the oth­er­wise strik­ing­ly calm and qui­et movie, Don’s acci­dent serves as the final tip­ping point, ini­ti­at­ing the long jour­ney of the Lov­ing v. Vir­ginia court case.

Many expres­sive shots and poignant dia­logues under­line the piv­otal scenes. When Mil­dred and Richard’s fam­i­ly and friends have din­ner togeth­er, warmth, hap­pi­ness, and home­ly feel­ings exude. How­ev­er, mov­ing to Wash­ing­ton tears them from the home they were not only born in, but had cho­sen for them­selves and their fam­i­ly. Once in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., the two Lov­ings appear lost and rest­less. This change in atmos­phere sharply con­trasts their lives in the city with the con­nect­ed com­mu­ni­ty they once knew in Vir­ginia. When Mildred’s sis­ter comes to vis­it, the cracks start to show. Mil­dred final­ly gives voice to the con­flict that pre­vi­ous­ly remained implic­it: “I hate it for them [the chil­dren]. It’s like they’re caged. Not even any grass for them to run on.”

The neigh­bor­hood of the fate­ful acci­dent reflects yet anoth­er piv­otal top­ic: The hous­ing seg­re­ga­tion that shaped the sup­pos­ed­ly pro­gres­sive north­east­ern U.S. cities in the 1960s. Lov­ing intrigu­ing­ly illus­trates the hypocrisy of sim­ply por­tray­ing the North as ‘good’ and the South as ‘bad’. Let’s not for­get: It was pos­si­ble for the Lov­ings to fall in love in their South­ern com­mu­ni­ty since, in actu­al­i­ty, it was much less seg­re­gat­ed than the ‘pro­gres­sive’ cities of the North. Of course, the fatal­ly racist soci­etal struc­tures in the Amer­i­can South should nei­ther be for­got­ten nor excused. Yet Mil­dred and Richard Lov­ing clear­ly didn’t feel lib­er­at­ed in lib­er­al Wash­ing­ton, D.C. The change toward equal­i­ty set in motion by Lov­ing v. Vir­ginia didn’t only con­cern the South or rur­al com­mu­ni­ties but also impact­ed the entire coun­try and final­ly chal­lenged the hyp­o­crit­i­cal nature of its racist practices.

As soon as they arrive back in Vir­ginia, the film’s imagery shows the fam­i­ly in an entire­ly dif­fer­ent light – lit­er­al­ly. The three chil­dren run wild on the grass sur­round­ing the house on all sides while Mil­dred soaks up the warm and wel­com­ing sun. Among seem­ing­ly adverse cir­cum­stances, the film depicts exceed­ing­ly har­mo­nious scenes: joint din­ners, both (grand)mothers vis­it­ing, and Richard resum­ing his hob­by of tun­ing cars.

All in all, Mil­dred and Richard chose not to for­get the place they called home. Their emo­tion­al bonds to the life they’d imag­ined for them­selves pre­vailed against the struc­tur­al injus­tice of a deeply flawed social and legal sys­tem. By hav­ing com­mit­ted them­selves to their own path, the Lov­ings paved the way for the court case that even­tu­al­ly changed the struc­tures designed to oppress them. The film pow­er­ful­ly demon­strates the impor­tance of a uni­ver­sal and simul­ta­ne­ous­ly inti­mate con­struct, such as home, in the strug­gle for equal rights. Mil­dred and Richard Lov­ing chose Vir­ginia as their home and, by doing so, shaped this state and the coun­try for gen­er­a­tions to come. There­fore, their case should not be called Lov­ing ver­sus Vir­ginia, but more apt­ly Lov­ing pro Vir­ginia.

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Han­nah Quinque is a white B.A. stu­dent major­ing in Dig­i­tal Media at Leuphana Uni­ver­si­ty Lüneb­urg. Read­ing, lis­ten­ing to, and watch­ing sto­ries – real and fic­tion­al – take up much of their time on and off cam­pus. Han­nah has a pas­sion for whim­si­cal puns, easy flan­nels, and mean­ing­ful coincidences.