“Loving” and the Interracial Couple of Today

In Jeff Nichols‘s new film Loving, the double-meaning-ed title also happens to be the last name of a real interracial couple, Richard and Mildred Loving (actors Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga) whose civil rights case led to a Supreme Court decision in 1967 that finally allowed mixed-race couples to marry.

What happened in brief is this: nine years earlier they’d gotten married one day in D.C., returned home to Virginia, and were arrested for breaking anti-miscegenation laws. Brian Tallerico, rogerebert.com:

With the assistance of a local attorney (Bill Camp), the Lovings were released under one condition: they had to leave the state of Virginia and not return for 25 years. They had to leave their families, their land, the home that they wanted to build, and the future they had seen for themselves. As the world changed with the rise of the civil rights movement, an opportunity arose to use the Lovings’ case to finally eliminate the racist laws still destroying lives in part of the country.

Selected reviews of Loving that attest to the film subject’s timeliness:

Stephanie Zacharek, Time: “…tells the Lovings’ story in a way that feels immediate and modern, and not just like a history lesson.”

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone: “Jeff Nichols has given us a quietly devastating film that resonates for the here and now and marches to the cadences of history and the heart.”

Dana Stevens, Slate: “One thing that Loving gets right in a way that few civil rights dramas do: It insists on racial discrimination as a systemic problem, not merely an interpersonal one.”

See the Loving trailer below:

As pointed out by Zeba Blay, The Huffington Post, one thing we need to know, though, about interracial relationships in today’s society, about five decades later, is that it’s not just about black and white (or straight).

So much of the discourse surrounding interracial relationships seems to center on black and white couplings. These are the images we see most in the media — cis white men with black women, or cis black men with white women. But we should bear in mind that there are all kinds of couplings in the interracial dating world that aren’t acknowledged nearly as much, and that interracial can mean a black woman with an Asian man. Sometimes, interracial couples may not even ‘look’ like interracial couples — some multiracial people can read as ‘racially ambiguous,’ or be mistaken for a certain race or ethnicity that they don’t identify with.  All these kinds of pairings come with a wholly different context and meaning, as do interracial couplings between people who aren’t heterosexual or cis.

According to the Pew Research Center (Washington Post) about 12 percent of those who married in 2013 were mixed racially in some way, which is almost twice the number found in 1980.

The rise in incidence of interracial pairings, though, hasn’t produced enough change in certain attitudes that make things difficult for such couples. Kayla Welch, lists on Thought Catalog five issues that often arise:

  1. The mystery of the kids. “…(P)eople will wonder endlessly (and I mean endlessly) what your children will look like.” Even if kids are the last thing on your mind!
  2. Strangers, or even tasteless acquaintances, might make offensive assumptions. Such as assuming one of you is fetishizing a certain race or going through a phase.
  3. The expectation that it’s a big deal. Frequent questions about how one’s parents or others are dealing with it.
  4. When others play it so cool that they just make it weird. 
  5. You’ll become more self-aware and socially conscious. “…Watching how your partner is treated and how you’re treated together, in big and small ways, will illuminate many elements of life that are typically regulated to the background.”

As Loving‘s director has stated (NBC News) about what we can learn from the film, “Although Richard and Mildred don’t provide all the answers, they show us how to talk about it. They do that by showing us the humanity at the center of these things.”

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