If you don’t already know the story of Richard and Mildred Loving, you will soon enough. Thanks to writer and director Jeff Nichols, the real-life couple’s inspiring romance has been turned into one of the most talked-about movies of 2016—already garnering major Academy Award momentum for the film and its stars Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga.
The Lovings were an interracial couple living in Virginia in the ’50s, who spent more than nine years fighting for the right to live together once they were married. Eventually their case, Loving v. Virginia, went all the way to the Supreme Court in 1967 and changed history with a ruling that deemed laws prohibiting interracial marriage unconstitutional.
Before signing on to play Richard Loving, Edgerton hadn’t heard the powerful story behind that historical ruling. “I’m from Australia and most of the things that I knew about American civil rights were the bigger moments marked by violence or bloodshed,” the 42-year-old actor told Fashionative at our Toronto International Film Festival studio. “Richard and Mildred’s journey was completely different. It was a silent and slow protest, yet their case became a watershed moment for the movement. I was really moved and taken by the story.”
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While their relationship is now known as boundary-breaking for so many Americans, Edgerton says it was never their intention to be put in this spotlight. “The Lovings weren’t getting married in protest—they were just neighbors that fell in love. They weren’t rich people, but they lived in a community where everyone looked out for each other, independent of race,” he says. The glue that bonded everyone—whites, African Americans, Native Americans—together was the commonality of socioeconomic status, more than anything else. It became the outsiders in their community that didn’t want them living under the same roof. They were pulled out of their homes and thrown in jail for it. And their bond was incredible because of all that they had to face to be together.”
Though it’s been almost 50 years since the ruling, Edgerton thinks that the movie’s themes will resonate with audiences now, more than ever. “I hope that Richard and Mildred Loving become household names because of this film. I also hope that it puts this civil rights shift in people’s consciousness,” he says. “I think that it’s very tethered to what’s going on today in terms of breaking down race barriers. I want it to remind people that there are peaceful ways we can make change.”
Loving is in select theaters today.
Watch the trailer above.