Stanley Kramer’s Widow On ‘Loving’ Then And Now

Focus Features

Editors note: Karen Kramer, the widow of filmmaker Stanley Kramer, wrote this as Focus Features’ Loving was chosen to receive the Producers Guild’s Stanley Kramer Award in recognition of a film that raises public awareness of important social issues. The movie chronicles the real-life story of Richard and Mildred Loving, whose 1967 Supreme Court victory was a landmark case invalidating laws prohibiting interracial marriage.

In the two months since a divisive election, we’ve read a lot – too much – about a frightening spike in hate crimes. It’s a fraught time in the U.S. right now, and in times of discord, we as filmmakers can counter these messages of hate and impulses of fear. Artists can play a special role in the world during these times – often our storytelling provides a gateway to healing, and to compassion, and can serve as a reminder of what we all share in common.

As far as we may all think we’ve come since the ’50s and ’60s, we’ve taken some steps backwards. It is alarming. We’ve all seen the ugly instances of violent acts of intolerance dominating the news cycle and posted on social media.

PGA Awards Logo 1

Each year the Producers Guild of America’s Stanley Kramer Award is given to a feature film that illuminates and raises public awareness of important social issues. That is what my late husband, Stanley Kramer, strove to do in the dozens of films that he produced and directed in his lifetime.

When I saw the film Loving, I knew that it was deserving of this award. The film was written with a poetic honesty, and directed with grace and sensitivity by Jeff Nichols. All of this is anchored by incredible performances from actors Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga who play Richard and Mildred Loving – a married couple who were arrested and jailed in the middle of the night for being in love because they were different colors.

What’s serendipitous is that it is almost exactly 50 years since Stanley was making his landmark film Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner, while Richard and Mildred Loving were making history in the U.S. Supreme Court.

When Stanley was making the movie, he and I had just gotten married ourselves. He was aware that a decision on the Lovings’ case would be coming down from the Supreme Court. Since the movie was about an interracial relationship – Sidney Poitier’s and Katharine Houghton’s characters are engaged to be married – his research had led him to Richard and Mildred’s story, and how they were trying to get their state’s law against interracial marriage overturned. Stanley had been fighting for civil rights in over 20 years of making movies, so he knew how vitally important their case was.

Spencer Tracy, left, and Stanley Kramer
Spencer Tracy, left, and Stanley Kramer REX/Shutterstock

He kept telling the studio, Columbia Pictures, that the movie was a love story starring Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. As the movie’s producer and director, he was tap-dancing a lot, since it would not have been a good investment if the studio were not able to show the movie in 16 states – where interracial marriage was still outlawed in 1967. The studio didn’t look at the screenplay until we started shooting. When they did, they canceled the movie.

We came home that night and Stanley paced up and down our living room for the next 24 hours. The excuse given to us by the studio was that it was because Spence was not well, and could not be insured – all of which was true. We finally went over to visit Kate, and Stanley told her that he’d put up his own salary as collateral to insure Spence. She said she would do the same. So did Sidney. Legally, the studio now had to go ahead with the picture.

Progress is not always fast-paced. Stanley didn’t expect to change minds, but he hoped to open them – and, as the late great Roger Ebert noted, Stanley made a film about interracial marriage that had the audience throwing rice.” In 1967, amidst the backdrop of the civil rights movement, that was perhaps a more revolutionary accomplishment than people understood at the time.

In June, a few weeks after we finished filming, Spence died. Two days later, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously in favor of Richard and Mildred Loving.

Guess Who's Coming To Dinner? - 1967

There is a line in Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner where Spence’s character asks the interracial couple, “And what about children?” Sidney’s character responds, “We feel they’ll either be President or Secretary of State.” A couple of decades later, Condoleeza Rice became Secretary of State and then Barack Obama became President.

I know that film is powerful. It can show us what is possible. It can show us the best versions of ourselves. It can serve as both a protest song and a love ballad. It can celebrate respect, love and beauty while inspiring cultural dialogue, understanding and, maybe even change.

Richard and Mildred gave everyone a lot to look forward to in 1967, and their story inspires us today in 2017. Love should, can, and does indeed win.

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