In the summer of 2015, social media erupted with applause, pride, and a collective "finally" when the U.S. Supreme Court legalized gay marriage. It was a long-fought battle, the precedent for which was established in 1967, when the Court also struck down laws banning interracial marriage in the famous Loving v. Virginia case.
A new film about the latter has just been released in theaters in Los Angeles and New York. Titled Loving, writer-director Jeff Nichols tells the courageous true story of Mildred and Richard Loving, a mixed-race couple who were married in 1958 in Washington, D.C., who were accused of breaking Virginia's "unlawful cohabitation" law when they returned to their home state.
Because their marriage and the following legal proceedings took place decades before many reading this were born, it's expected that, on some level, you won't feel a connection to a bygone era in this current age of same-sex interracial couple emojis. But one aspect where the flick succeeds is making it impossible to not feel a slice of tension during some awkward moments.
Like when police raid the home of Mildred's family, arresting the Black woman and her husband for sharing a bed, then leave a pregnant Mildred locked up for an entire weekend because the police won't release her on bail to her White husband.
Or when the couple takes the risky drive from Washington, D.C., to Virginia in the cover of night so that their oldest child can be born among family.
Or the heart-pounding instance when Richard's car is followed by a van, evoking fear that he, his wife, and his kids will be discovered by corrupt law enforcement, and arrested for "illegally" living as a family.
It's edge-of-your-seat anxiety for events that seem mundane and that many of us take for granted, reminding viewers that these situations were very real, and could happen unexpectedly as these folks tried to live their lives.
And that's the second element where the film succeeds. Ruth Negga (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Preacher) and Joel Edgerton (The Gift, Zero Dark Thirty) excel in bringing to life these heroes, who reluctantly stood up to the establishment, who dearly loved their children, and who wanted nothing more than to go about their days with the simplicity afforded to most monoracial couples.
Their only crime was falling in love. And because of that, they endured circumstances that seem ridiculous by today's standards. But the actors' emotive performances also get to the heart of larger concerns, giving face to the complicated questions "Well, why didn't they just move up North?" and more by delving into the complex nature of the matters at hand — and what those matters meant for thousands of Americans at the time and millions in the present.
Digesting the film is not easy, thanks to archaic laws shown in action. But Loving touches the human spirit by pointing to the fact that not all heroes wear capes, and bravery is rarely — if ever — easy.