'Loving' Proves Why We Need To See More Interracial Relationships On-Screen
On July 11, 1958, six weeks after their wedding, Richard and Mildred Loving were arrested in the comfort of their bedroom because they chose to love without boundaries. The interracial couple was charged with violating the state’s law of miscegenation from the Racial Integrity Act of 1924, an event shown on-screen in the new film Loving , which chronicles the couple's story. And while the Lovings' tale might be from the '50s, our current society today still sadly features much of the same prejudice about interracial couples. So it's unsurprising — yet still so frustrating — that there is subsequently a lack of interracial couples represented in major motion films, with Loving, in theaters Nov. 4, the rare, notable exception.
Loving, directed by Jeff Nichols, focuses on Richard and Mildred's love story through the opposition they faced from state government and the scrutiny of their choice to marry one another. They were first sentenced to a year in prison for their "crime," but eventually were given the opportunity to stay married if they agreed to be banished from the state by a court judge. "Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents,” said Judge Leon M. Bazile during the case, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. “The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix."
The movie takes place in an era during which 24 states, including the Lovings' home of Virginia, carried laws against miscegenation. The couple's arrests and prison sentences led to their exile in D.C., where they later sued the state of Virginia for their sentences. This lawsuit resulted in the 1967 landmark civil rights ruling, Loving v. Virginia, which went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and abolished miscegenation laws nationally. Actor Ruth Negga, who plays Mildred in the film, told Reuters recently that she believes the movie comes at a very important time for the U.S. "I think a lot of people have come out of this film and gone 'Wow! I feel like I've been very complacent' and they're thinking about things and entertaining things they wouldn't have done beforehand, and I think that's the point of art, to shift a consciousness," said Negga.
It might not seem like, in 2016, some people would still require a change in thought when it comes to interracial marriage, but unfortunately, that's not the case. According to a 2014 Brookings research study, just 0.4 percent of American married couples were interracial in 1960, but a report from the Pew Research Center in 2013 stated that 12% of new marriages in the U.S. were between individuals of different racial backgrounds. Yet despite this increase, discrimination is still present, and it's all too visible when these couples are shown on-screen. Just three years ago, social media saw a flare in negative comments after the airing of Cheerios’ 2013 Super Bowl commercial featuring an interracial family, where a black dad and white mom talked about heart health with their multiracial daughter. Then, in early 2016, an Old Navy ad featuring an interracial family sporting spring fashion caused an equally upsetting uproar.
The deeply rooted prejudices of some Americans seem to resurface when two races are represented as one in media. When that love is made public, as an example to the masses, people become engaged in suppressing the expressive. This ideology transcends past marketing and advertisement in media. In 2014, actor Tamera Mowry-Housley and her husband Adam Housley faced attacks on social media for posting images of and discussing their multiracial family. As Mowry-Housley recounted to Oprah Winfrey in her “Oprah: Where are They Now?” interview, some social media users used phrases such as "white man's whore" to describe Mowry-Housley and went as far to say "back in the day, you cost $300, but now you're giving it to him for free."
“See, this is where I get emotional, because it’s hurtful,” Mowry told Winfrey. “Because when my husband and I are so openly — and we’re fine with showing — is love. Love. But people choose to look past love and spew hate. That’s what hurts me, because I’ve never experienced so much hate ever in my life, ever.”
Much of this social response to mixed-race couples is completely vexatious, but it's telling about the state of acceptance in America for non-white couplings, especially when seen on-screen. Interracial representation goes past the black and white spectrum, of course; rarely do we see interracial couples in movies that represent other combinations of races and ethnicities. The reasoning for this seems like a combination of the discomfort some people clearly feel over interracial romance and the general hesitation by Hollywood to feature minorities on-screen. But that just doesn't make sense —the industry caters to those who spend the most in the box office, and according to Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), it's not just white people, but Hispanics and African-Americans, who spend the most money at the box office.
So why the lack of films featuring people of the same races and ethnicities as audiences? It's not that movies with interracial couples don't exist at all — in addition to Loving, there are The Joy Luck Club, Romeo Must Die, and The White Masai, to name a few. But they're still far too rare. Of all the major movies released from 2000 to 2015, I can count about 20 films made with a multiracial love storyline. That's a depressingly low number, considering that, according to the 2014 report from the MPAA, 707 films were released in that year alone, with 136 of those movies came from major networks.
Perhaps the industry dares not to display images of interracial couples as often as it should because of the fear that audiences won't respond and that the films won't gross money, but that's not an excuse. Any fear of that sort plays off of an underlining prejudice. Perhaps the real issue is that portraying the changing face of the American consumer is a hard pill to swallow for those who are stuck in old perceptions about what this country looks like. Yet now, we have Loving to spark the conversation again, and hopefully, if it does well and makes waves, studios will be convinced to make more films featuring interracial romance. Representation is everything, and it's time that Hollywood stops hesitating whenitcomes to portraying reality on-screen.
Images: Focus Features/Universal Pictures, Giphy