On this Valentines Day of overpriced bouquets, aphrodisiac-inspired bistro fare and all manner of tacky heart-shaped jewelry, I am thinking about Richard and Mildred Loving of Caroline County, Va. -- a couple who married in June 1958 and whose love was met by an arrest warrant weeks later, with sheriff's deputies bursting through their door at 2 a.m. A couple terrorized by and banished from their home state because they did not share the same skin color. A couple who, with no wedding planner, came to have one of the most original and unique nuptials in US history: They were ultimately pronounced man and wife by the US Supreme Court in Loving v. Virginia.
© Estate of Grey Villet
Tonight at 9 p.m., HBO will premiere the new and already widely acclaimed documentary The Loving Story. It is a deeply and uniquely American love story, of two Southern kids who fell in love, and who were not at all prepared for the ways in which that love would be tested. It is also the story of a Virginia that wasn't always made for lovers; specifically, in 1959, it was made for trial judges like Leon M. Bazile, who convicted the couple of violating anti-miscegenation laws with this judicial pronouncement: "Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement, there would be no cause for such marriages."
Ah, yes. But for the interference.
Gorgeously woven by filmmaker Nancy Buirski, the film unfolds like a
quiet country tale of heartbreak between two very reluctant civil rights
heroes. The Lovings were not Freedom Riders who signed their last wills
and testaments before trekking into the heart of Mississippi. They were
just a married couple who wanted to live without shame. We see Richard
and Mildred on the front porch, shaken and obviously confused by the terms of
their suspended sentences. We see them on a living room couch, his head
resting on her shoulder, her head pinned back with rollers. The documentary photography used in the film -- taken by LIFE photographer Grey Villet
and now on view at the International Center for Photography in New York -- casts a hypnotic spell with its black-and-white intimacy. A review last May in Variety
hits the nail on the head: "The Lovings' unprepossessing affection,
evident in every frame of their home movies, forms a perfect intimate
counterpoint to the historical upheaval and ultimate rendering of
Mildred Loving died in 2008, an ardent and vocal supporter of gay marriage and a trailblazer for every American interracial union that came after hers; in some ways, the Lovings' legacy is embedded in the 2010 census, which reported sharp increases in the rates of interracial couples, especially in the South. Richard Loving, a bricklayer who loved drag-racing, died in 1975. The father of three fought for the validation of his marriage for nine years; he lived in that legal bliss for only eight. When he was asked by his lawyer if he had any message for the Supreme Court, he began his reply with these words: "Tell the court I love my wife."
You can read more about The Loving Story educational teacher guide and view the official film trailer here.
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