Wednesday, June 18, 2014

A Tale of Loving

47 years ago this month, a ruling was announced in a landmark Supreme Court case, Loving v. Virginia. This was the case in which the Court struck down anti-miscegenation statutes on the books in several U.S. states, legalizing interracial marriage nationwide. It was a monumental case among many other monumental civil rights cases.

I have been fairly familiar with the case for some time, as it is cited today as key precedent in the legal battle against same-sex marriage bans. But I was still curious to dig deeper, through a documentary film called The Loving Story. It chronicles the tale of the plantiff couple, Richard and Mildred Loving, and their path through the court system, leading to their victory. But, perhaps due to my familiarity with the case, I didn't find the documentary to be all that informative.

Partly, the filmmakers faced a problem in trying to cover events so long after the fact. Both Richard and Mildred Loving had died by the time the film was made in 2012. Thus, the film is cobbled together out of interviews with friends and neighbors, the lawyers who pled the case, and a handful of personal home movies and news footage that survives. Even to this day, the court system does not allow cameras into proceedings, so those parts of the story have to be covered with audio recordings.

What does come across, and to me is quite interesting, is the contrast between the justice system then and now. For one, the Supreme Court's ruling in this case was a unanimous and forward-thinking 9-0; today, there is little doubt that the similar same-sex marriage case that will wind up before the Supreme Court will result in a 5-4 split.

For another, it's notable just how "photogenic" plaintiffs in these lawsuits must be in this day and age. Neither Richard nor Mildred Loving even went to the Supreme Court when their case was argued. Richard never gave any interviews, and Mildred gave very few. By contrast, today's plaintiffs are groomed for the TV cameras, and the sympathies they can draw out of an audience form a major part of the case. (Take, for instance, the "kind little ol' lady" Edie Windsor, of last summer's Windsor v. United States.)

But if I was hoping for some deeper revelations, the documentary didn't really provide me any. This is a powerful bit of history, and if any of you are unfamiliar with it, I would certainly recommend the film for you on that basis. But as a piece of documentary filmmaking, I'd call it an average C.

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