“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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