EXCLUSIVE: If “Loving Day” didn’t already exist as it has for the past 13 years, then Focus Features just might have tried to invent it. Focus is releasing Loving on November 4, but it unveiled the 1950s- and ’60s-set interracial marriage story from writer-director Jeff Nichols at last month’s Cannes Film Festival and got immediate Oscar buzz from awards pundits.
The film stars Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga as Richard and Mildred Loving, a quiet couple whose then-controversial marriage and defiance of Virginia law eventually led to the U.S. Supreme Court and the Loving v Virginia decision that ruled in their favor and re-affirmed their right to marry. Loving Day
commemorates the June 12th 1967 anniversary of that momentous day. Ken Tanabe, founder and President of the group known as the Loving Day Project, says his organization’s ultimate goal is to “create an annual tradition that will make the Loving case a universally recognized civil rights landmark” and in fact they are making efforts to get it to President Obama to give it further gravitas. Focus, not missing an opportunity for an early launch to their fall release of the film and to signal its importance (never a bad idea when you have an Oscar campaign in the works), has jumped on the Loving Day bandwagon and is inviting couples and families to share their stories and photos Sunday on social media under the handle #ThisIsLoving.
When I spoke to Nichols yesterday, a water main had just exploded in his house and his floor was flooding. Nevertheless, he felt it was important to weigh in on this occasion. “You can see where my priorities are, Pete,” he laughed.
But even though his film takes a more quiet approach, just trying to show the Lovings as two people who wanted simply to be allowed to be married, Nichols thinks it will serve as an important counterpart to all the shouting and fear-mongering of this election season. “I think in this particular year it’s interesting to have this film coming out because it’s a year of politics. It’s an election year, and when these issues become politicized and find their way into the mouths of people like Donald Trump and any of the other candidates, it gets further and further away from the humanity of this thing,” he said, mirroring what he also said during the film’s debut in Cannes that the purpose of the movie is to somehow grab this issue back from the jaws of that kind of political speech and just give it to these people. The film has obvious resonance now in other ways, especially with the recent and equally controversial Supreme Court decision affirming the right of gay marriage.
“I want to give it back to the human beings at the center of all these issues,” he said. “It’s an interesting time. I don’t know if we’ll win that fight, but that’s the purpose of this film and partly why it is structured the way that it is.” Nichols noted the irony that 1967, the year of the Supreme Court decision in the Loving case, was also the year in which the Oscar-winning movie Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner was released.
The Stanley Kramer film detailed the evening the white daughter (Katharine Houghton) of the characters played by Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn brought home her fiance (played by Sidney Poitier) to meet her parents. Nichols notes a key difference between that iconic movie portrayal of interracial relationships with that of the Lovings. “I absolutely love the film, but I think the difference is those were both extraordinarily socially-minded, intelligent people, highly educated people that knew the consequences of the decision they were making,” he said of the characters. “I think what’s really interesting about the Lovings, is they genuinely did not understand the depth of the problem they were walking into by getting married. Their act of getting married was not an act of defiance. It was not a symbol. It was genuinely an act of love, and I think that is what allows this story to enter the conversation in a human way. There might not be a lot of people who want to see a movie about marriage equality or even racial equality, but they might want to watch a movie about two people in
love that are getting railroaded by the government.”
Nichols said he only first heard about Loving Day when he was doing research on the film but now is a big supporter of the movement, and the petition to make it a nationally recognized day — a day that the nation is allowed to pay attention and kind of celebrate marriage equality and a Supreme Court decision that made a real difference. “I would think the vast majority of Americans would agree that the decision made in 1967 was the right decision and only progressed things in our society,” he said. “So I think it’s important to remind ourselves that the Supreme Court can affect our lives and can affect change that lasts for centuries.”
To watch a scene from Loving just click on the link at the top.