At first glance, the connection between Jeff Nichols’ new film Loving and the LGBT community might not seem obvious. After all, the film is about a real life interracial couple, Richard and Mildred Loving, and their fight to have their marriage recognized in Virginia after their marriage in 1958. But some of you may recall that their legal fight for recognition, Loving v. Virginia (which resulted in the Supreme Court striking down in 1967 anti-interracial union laws across the United States), was cited in Obergefell v. Hodges, the case that saw equal marriage become the law of the land in 2015.
With Loving having its North American premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival just slightly over a year after that momentous decision came down, we thought it more than appropriate to speak with the film’s writer-director, Jeff Nichols, and its stars, Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton.
Talking first with Jeff, he told us that he was first approached with the project in 2012 when equal marriage was “looming, but it wasn’t at all a certainty.” He spent about a year writing the script knowing full well what was going on in the background.
“The most obvious social connection of the story at that time was marriage equality,” Jeff said. “I think things have evolved since then; that race has become a much more heated topic.”
What impact could the film have had if it was part of the conversation leading up to June 2015? We’ll never know, but that possibility did exist.
“We had the film written and conceivably we could’ve gone ahead with it, but I was kind of already geared up to make Midnight Special, so the producers of this film, very fortunately, were willing to wait on me to make it,” Jeff said. “At the time we were all like, ‘Wow, we wish the film could come out now.’ During the debate. During the oral arguments and everything else. But that’s when, yeah, you really do come to that conclusion of, ‘Well, just because the case is done doesn’t mean the topic is done by any stretch of the imagination.’”
Jeff, by the way, is aware there will be people coming to see the film that are perfectly fine with interracial marriage but aren’t on board with same-sex marriage. In fact, he’s counting on it.
“What I’m hoping is that maybe, just maybe, there is a section of the audience out there that could come see this film that maybe don’t agree with marriage equality as it relates to gay marriage,” he said. “But they might come see this film and it might challenge their ideas of it.”
If that means ruffling feathers in the South where he’s from and currently lives, he’s totally fine with that.
“What we really need for this film to do is break through the noise and actually start to talk to people in all parts of the country,” he said. “That’s what I’m hoping for.”
But Loving isn’t solely an American story. The movie is incredibly universal. And funnily enough, it’s two non-Americans that are at its center.
Ruth Negga was raised in Ireland and Joel Edgerton in Australia. Both of these actors, who put in impressive performances in the film, are well aware of the same-sex marriage debate and strides and sometimes lack thereof going on in their own home countries.
“Even right now, that debate is still going on in Australia,” Joel said. “There’s some very backward, kind of clunky things going on with the government in order to pretend to be looking for the public opinion on whether they should change those laws. And it’s a little bit embarrassing, to be honest.”
While all this was going on, there were Joel and Ruth, stuck in the 1960s.
“It was sort of this sort of weird alchemy,” Ruth said. “Because Ireland had just had our referendum, which was an awesome moment.”
Listening to this I did, however, have to point out that the referendum could’ve gone the other way.
“It could’ve, but we mobilized,” she said.
For his part, Joel is not so convinced that a plebiscite in Australia over equal marriage is the way to go.
“There should not be a debate. There should not have to be a vote. There should not have to be a plebiscite or a referendum,” he said. “I think the plebiscite is definitely a cop-out. It’s a spending of money to find an opinion that then is just a guide for a bunch of kind of predominately, we assume, straight politicians who are not going to be living inside the living room with people who are looking to find this change. The fact that you have to campaign for or against the issue is ridiculous.”
“But that’s the reality,” countered Ruth. “I have many friends who knocked on doors and said, you know, that this is happening, and people were like, ‘No, I don’t think so.’ People think, ‘Oh, I’m not sure because it’s over there.’ They don’t know any LGBT, queer people. So it’s like something foreign.”
In Loving, the idea of bringing children into an interracial relationship is also used against Richard and Mildred. Gay and lesbian couples with children or considering raising children have often heard similar arguments.
“I think the real collateral damage of this debate in terms of gender are the children of same-sex couples,” Joel said. “Those kids sort of get damaged by the campaigning of against and start to be told they’re in some sort of broken situation or some immoral situation. And that’s a real shame.”
“If something is in legislature, it legitimizes discrimination, and that filters down,” Ruth said.
During our interview, Joel cited the Australian documentary Gayby Baby, made by his friend Maya Newell, who we’ve interviewed before. He was quick to point out the government’s decision to block the film from being shown in many schools.
“It seems like they want to prevent kids from being educated that that scenario can also be right,” he said. “That’s fucked up.”
“You can’t stop the tide…” started Ruth on her Irish proverb.
“…with a broomstick,” finished Joel.
So the moral of the story? Said Ruth: “Change is coming.”
Loving plays at the Toronto International Film Festival on Sept. 16. The film is set for theatrical release in the U.S. on Nov. 4.