People know my feelings on interracial relationships and Hollywood’s usually dismal representation of them. And so they may look at the headline of this article and say “Really? ‘Loving’ is better than ‘Moonlight’ and a lot better than ’13th?’ We knew you were going to love it, but you honestly think it’s better than any other ‘race’ movie this year?” It might seem like a rubberstamp based on a personal need, but “Loving” actually is a great movie despite some tone or casting issues. Whereas “Moonlight” sometimes seems to suggest there is only tragedy and isolation in black gay love, “Loving” features a central couple that is the normal ones in a world that is doing something wrong.
What Works: You know the story: white man and black woman fall in love in segregated 1960’s Virginia and have to jump through legal hurdles merely to be together. But “Loving” understands the dehumanizing yet faux-folksy aspects of a system that is trying “to protect people” from themselves, “for their own good and the good of the children.” More than most films ever could, “Loving” understands that systematic oppression is rarely inacted through sweeping speeches or anything that seems obviously heinous. The rotten system at the heart of “Loving” thinks it’s the humane one protecting people from their darkest impulses and why won’t these anarchist kids just be reasonable?
Although it’s set 50 years ago, it is the most personal and relevant film of 2016 to the times we’re in today. Does “13th” really do anything to humanize black prisoners to a white audience that may not like them? Or does “Moonlight” really push an audience far enough to view black gay love not as a pitiful last resort for the lonely but something equal to their own? “Loving” shows an aggressively normal couple—the film’s criticized muted tone seems to reflect the fact that Richard and Virginia Loving were a couple first and accidental activists second, people who merely wanted to be married and weren’t even necessarily interested in challenging anyone—in a world that keeps insisting their love is somehow abnormal.
What Doesn’t: Joel Edgerton is Australian, Ruth Negga is British, and even Martin Csokas (as a casually fascist cop, enforcing his racist system with a pseudo-sympathy that amounts to a shoulder shrug) is European. Is it really so much to ask that one film about real-life Southern icons—from “Selma” to “12 Years a Slave” to “I Saw the Light”—feature actual Southern actors?
What I Would’ve Done Differently: It’s worth noting that even though the film is set 50 years ago, it’s the first genuinely positive portrayal of a black woman/white male couple I’ve seen in a film in two years. By the end, I didn’t think “look how far we’ve come” so much as “if people are choosing to self-segregate, then what’s the difference?”