Richard and Mildred Loving were a mixed race couple who got married in a time and place when marriage between the races was illegal. They hid their marriage and traveled separately to avoid being arrested and imprisoned on a regular basis. Finally having enough, they decided to hire a lawyer (Bernard S. Cohen) to fight for them and their case went to the U.S. Supreme Court, resulting in the decision that anti-miscegenation laws were unconstitutional, and any state with such laws on the books had to overturn them immediately.
The documentary follows the Loving family through this whole process, pieced together from archival footage and newsreels from the time mostly, but with some interviews with the Lovings’ three children today. It’s not the best documentary I’ve ever seen for a few reasons. First, there’s not enough footage of the Lovings to establish them as individual characters and get us invested in their story. Second, watching a documentary about the horrors of racism 50-60 years ago without any context for racial tensions still alive today feels a bit pointless. I doubt anyone who watches this film and disagrees with its message that interracial marriage should be completely legal would be swayed by the Lovings’ story. Finally, the documentary itself is rather crudely assembled. There’s a lot of voice over of the various people involved talking; a lot of archival interviews with the Lovings’ lawyer Bernard Cohen, but not enough of them to fill a feature-length film. So, the filmmakers fill time with ominous shots of dark streets in slow motion, old metal gates, and buildings. It starts to feel like an old episode of Unsolved Mysteries, except there’s no mystery – we know interracial marriage is legal; we live in the future.
It would have been great if this film had been used to shed some light on present day racist atrocities, or even drew parallels between the civil rights movement and the current rally to legalize gay marriage, but instead the film simply tells the story of the Lovings’ struggles. Perhaps making this more of a commentary or argument about the modern world would have its own problems. I tend to have a hard time watching argumentative documentaries because it’s difficult to trust that the filmmaker isn’t editing the movie in such a way to manipulate his or her audience. This is why I tend to enjoy documentaries like The Loving Story, which strive to be completely informative about their subject, but something about this one just struck me as pointless. The one moment when the film does give us some modern context is in the end credits, when its revealed that Alabama resisted the Supreme Court’s ruling and kept anti-miscegenation laws in effect all the way until the year 2000. This was the only truly surprising and interesting moment in the film to me, and wasn’t at all argumentative, so maybe the trick was to just provide context and parallels while keeping the film overall educational.
No special features. Available now on DVD from Docurama Films.