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Cannes: Joel Edgerton and Jeff Nichols on How ‘Loving’ Addresses ‘Under the Surface Racism’

Cannes: Joel Edgerton and Jeff Nichols on How 'Loving' Addresses 'Under the Surface Racism'

Actor Joel Edgerton’s latest movie “Loving” screened at the Cannes Film Film festival Monday at a time when the issue of equality that lies at the heart of the film is dividing Americans back in the U.S. much in the same way it did during the Civil Rights era.

While an audience watched Edgerton and Ruth Negga’s portrayal of Richard and Mildred Loving, the biracial couple whose landmark civil rights case saw the U.S. Supreme Court end all racial restrictions on marriage in 1967, a legal fight is being waged between the U.S. federal government and the state of North Carolina over equal rights for transgender Americans, and gay marriage continues to be a divisive issue. During a press conference at Cannes, Edgerton, Negga and “Loving” director Jeff Nichols talked about how the true story of the Loving family was much larger than any of them.

“One of the things that struck me while working on this film is, what happens between two individuals is nobody else’s business,” Edgerton said, adding that despite the ruling made in 1967, one U.S. state didn’t recognize the law until the year 2000. “Under the surface racism or negative opinion to me is something that I think we really need to talk about.”

For Nichols, having the film’s message resonate will require changing the way legislators and the public discuss social and political topics. Instead of focusing on individual stories of people affected by these issues, he said, much of the conversation is taken up by broad political ideas that don’t address specific situations.

“We can talk about bathroom laws and all of this ridiculousness because it’s not attached to people. It’s just these political ideas, and I think that’s a waste of time,” he said. “Hopefully it makes people think about the fact that people are at the center of these debates—people that matter and people whose lives are affected by these decisions.”

READ MORE: Focus Features Buys Jeff Nichols’ Historical Drama ‘Loving’ Out of Berlin

Negga, who is half-Irish, noted that in 2015, Ireland had its referendum on gay marriage, a decision that drew overwhelming public support. “I was very proud about that,” She said. “Its important to evolve [when] having discussions about equality.”

One of the ways Nichols was able to tell the story of the Loving family as accurately as possible was by relying on Nancy Buirski’s 2011 documentary “The Loving Story,” which captured many details of their private lives.

“We had this beautiful documentary footage unearthed from the mid-’60s where we got to go into their home and see them and watch them,” Nichols said. “It’s an unusual thing to have access to.” 

Though the Supreme Court ruled on the case of Loving vs. Virginia in 1967, Nichols said that it takes a long time for society to catch up, as evidenced by continued efforts to restrict equality in the U.S.

“People are afraid of certain things,” he said, “and they feel that it’s necessary to legislate that fear.”

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