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Ruth Negga, Oge Egbuonu talk about the importance of the Loving film

 

The groundbreaking film “Loving” retells the story of Mildred and Richard Loving, a Black woman and white man, who fought for the right to marry and live in 1960’s Virginia. The storyline follows the couple from courtship to marriage as an interracial couple to their eventual exile due to anti-miscegenation laws in the State of Virginia. But the couple fought back and won making their monumental case setting a precedence for interracial couples and LGBTQ + couples in the United States.

Oge Egbuonu, former executive producer at Raindog Films, a U.K. based  film company founded by actor Colin Firth and British music Executive Ged Doherty, says once you hear the story you can’t help but be captivated by their love for each other. The team wanted to keep the integrity of the couple, so they called on script writer Jeff Nichols who Egbuonu says “left everyone in awe” of how beautifully he captured the story.

“It wasn’t about the court room drama, that’s not what they were about,” Egbuonu says. “And it was just so breathtaking to see how he was able to stay so true to them but then also give them this platform for people to champion their story.”

Ruth Negga, an Ethiopian Jewish actress from Ireland, was cast to play the lead role of Mildred Loving. Cast two years before production began for the film, Negga used the time to research Mildred which gave her an advantage. Using Nancy Buirski’s 2011 documentary “The Loving Story” as the primary frame of reference, Negga explored the difference in Mildred Loving’s tonality and timber. Negga says she learned how to embody Mildred’s essence from her physicality to her quiet, shy voice.

“She’s created a wonderful, atmospheric homage to this couple. I found it absolutely invaluable in creating Mildred, because she incorporates contemporary footage of the couple, their family, their extended family, and their interactions with the two American Civil Liberties Union lawyers, and I studied that. I pored over it night and day,” Negga says. “So, I’m ever grateful to Nancy, she is as much an architect of Mildred as I am.”

The film captures the melancholy that slowly overtakes Mildred Loving when she is forced to live in the urban center of Washington D.C.  She describes her children as “caged animals” watching them play in the couple’s two-story home. For Mildred, being exiled to Washington D.C. and cut off from daily interactions with her family was nothing short of a death sentence, which was the fuel behind her fight against the State of Virginia.

“That’s all they wanted to do…. they wanted to go home,” Negga says. “And it’s quite frightening that was a cause to be charged with something. To be imprisoned because you want to go home, marry someone that you love, and want to raise a family with them. But for Mildred this was the place she was born, raised, and the earth of the Virginia hills was vital for her existence.”

In 1964 Mildred Loving wrote to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy about their case in Virginia and as a result was approached by a lawyer named Bernard S. Cohen to represent them in a lawsuit aimed to overturn Virginia’s anti-miscegenation laws. In 1965, Mildred and Richard Loving presented their case to the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, however the presiding judge upheld the ruling that their marriage was illegal. The Lovings took their case to the U.S. Supreme Court where they won Loving vs. Virginia on June 12, 1967. Both the convictions of miscegenation and evading the anti -miscegenation laws were overturned, thus ending all racially based discrimination against marriage. The landmark case has been used as precedence setting the stage for Obergefell v. Hodgesthe 2015 Supreme Court decision to recognize same-sex marriage. Terri Abney who plays Garnet Jeter, Mildred’s sister, says it’s  heartbreaking that a film like “Loving” is still relevant, but she is grateful for the bravery of Richard and Mildred.

“The fight that they had within themselves to just push and persevere because without them we wouldn’t even be able to talk about this in terms of attempting to make change in the LGBT community,” Abney says. “And then also the Black Lives Matter movement and other movements. For me the universal theme is love and at the end of the day love is all that matters.”

That’s why Raindog Films chose to take the story to the big screen because they want to use the platform to tell stories that wouldn’t be normally be told. Egbuonu says its Firth’s way of giving back by using his talent.

“We think that there is a platform out there for commercial films and we support commercial films, but we also want to give a voice to films you normally wouldn’t know about,” Egbuonu says. “He feels a better way for him to be of service is to do what he’s great at, which is filmmaking and that’s how the company started, and that’s when Loving came up and he started to discuss Loving.”

The team met with Martin Scorsese and Nancy Buirski to buy the rights to the story and the rest is history. Since the movie hit the theaters in 2016 it sparked a dialogue regarding interracial marriage and discrimination. But Negga says the purpose of the film was to start uncomfortable conversations.

“It was important that everyone had the same goal and it very much felt like we were a family on a mission to deliver Mildred and Richard to the world. It was very much so our privilege,” Neggas says. “We are, at our essence, good people. We have the intentions of really good people. We have potential to alter the world. One person, one ordinary person with their voice, can do that. It’s extraordinary.”

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