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Upcoming movie ‘Loving’ focuses on fight for interracial marriage and ‘absolute commitment,’ says Virginia Tech expert

October 26, 2016

Peter Wallenstein

Peter Wallenstein
Peter Wallenstein

Nearly 50 years after a landmark civil rights case ruled state laws prohibiting interracial marriage were unconstitutional, the movie “Loving,” set for release Nov. 4, will tell the story of the plaintiffs in the 1967 U.S. Supreme Court decision Loving v. Virginia.

Virginia Tech’s Peter Wallenstein is an expert on the milestone case involving Richard and Mildred Loving.

“Viewers will see the story of the Lovings as a love story, from the moment in 1958 when they determined to marry, to their triumph nine years later at the Supreme Court,” Wallenstein said. “They will see two people who were unwavering in their absolute commitment to each other and, within a few years, to the three young children in their family.”

Background

Loving v. Virginia was a pivotal civil rights case brought by Richard Loving, a white man, and Mildred Loving, a black woman, who were arrested in eastern Virginia for marrying each other in 1958. The Lovings pleaded guilty in return for a suspended sentence on the condition that they leave Virginia; they ultimately moved to Washington, D.C.

The U.S. Supreme Court famously overturned the Lovings’ convictions in a unanimous 1967 decision, ruling that Virginia’s interracial marriage laws violated both the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Peter Wallenstein

Wallenstein, an award-winning professor of history, researches the civil rights struggle in America. 

He’s published two books focusing on the Lovings and interracial marriage: “Tell the Court I Love My Wife: Race, Marriage, and Law—an American History” (2002) and “Race, Sex, and the Freedom to Marry: Loving v. Virginia” (2014).

See Wallenstein’s full bio.

Quoting Wallenstein

His early research into the Lovings’ story:

“I came to see that the saga of Mr. and Mrs. Loving exemplified the legal travails a couple might go through just because their marriage was deemed interracial and therefore banned, at many times in most states from New England to the Pacific Coast.”

Consulting on the movie:

Wallenstein spoke with those in charge of casting for the film and later “had a magical conversation with the actress who plays Mildred (Ruth Negga), as well as a substantive conversation with the writer-director (Jeff Nichols) — who impressed me with how he described some of his decisions, his sense of how to adapt the story to the constraints and possibilities of a feature film; one that emphasizes the love story dimension.”

The historical perspective:

“The broader context, while not the focus of the movie, frames their often agonizing experience, as the state of Virginia deemed their marriage actually a felony, worthy of years in prison — and then a changing politics and culture in the 1960s just in time to give them a real chance at freedom to live in their home county in rural Virginia without having to fear once again being hauled out of bed in the middle of the night and off to jail.”

Schedule an interview

To secure an interview with Wallenstein, contact Jordan Fifer in the Media Relations office at 540-231-6997 or jordanfifer@vt.edu.

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