Movies, even ones that take place in a different era, are made in the present day.
That’s a truism understood deeply by filmmaker Jeff Nichols, the 37-year-old director of Loving, the acclaimed real-life drama about Mildred and Richard Loving (Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton). In 1958, they were arrested in Virginia for the crime of interracial marriage and eventually fought their case all the way to the Supreme Court. In 1967, the Justices decreed their punishment utterly unconstitutional and banned laws against mixed marriage nationwide.
Loving is Nichols fifth film but hardly the first to subtly tackle a political issue. His debut, 2007’s Shotgun Stories, is about how hatred for one’s neighbors is clung to and passed generational through families. He began writing Loving in 2012, when the world was a different place. Neither same-sex marriage equality or the Black Lives Matter movement — two things that Loving tacitly addresses — were in existence.
In a post-screening discussion at Time Inc. headquarter’s Henry Luce Theater in downtown Manhattan, Nichols and Edgerton discussed the timeliness of Loving as a commentary about how we live now.
“I’m looking at this story and holding it up to all of these events and I’m wondering, ‘What are Richard and Mildred telling us?'” Nichols said. “And I think they’re telling us to just look at the people who are at the center of all these events.”
Edgerton added, “[Loving] is an empathetic experience between two people that may as well represent anybody who is judged.”
But Nichols, who’s already among those being discussed for an Oscar nomination (along with Negga and Edgerton), is poised to take an even bigger swing politically with his next movie, a remake of the 1988 sci-fi drama Alien Nation. He’s making the film for a major studio, Twentieth Century Fox, and it’s tentatively scheduled for release in 2018 — two years into the administration of a American president who build his political capital by questioning Barack Obama’s birthplace and vowing to erect a wall on the U.S./Mexico border.
“Yeah, and I’m still grappling with that,” Nichols said. “There was a wall in the script before [the election].”
He continued, adding, “I think films at their best are reflections of the society that produces them. I know for a fact that an audience, when they’re walking to the theater, they bring their issues with them. And I’m always been fascinated by that since my first film. Especially with my first film, I was just in a bubble making something and then I saw the outside world come in and start to put all this stuff on it.
“And then I used that to my benefit with Take Shelter. I knew I just had to give people a little bit [of political context] and they could run with it. Similarly with Loving, I knew we didn’t have to speak specifically about gay marriage. People were going to be thinking about that — as they should.
“With this next film, I’m still, like everybody, trying to figure out what all this means for us. But whether I want it to or not, it’s going to be a reflection of the world. And I want it to.”
Check out the Facebook Live video of the post-screening Q&A (apologies for the low audio quality) below. Loving is playing in theaters now.