Little Rock native Jeff Nichols brought his new acclaimed film “Loving” to the Ron Robinson Theater last night ahead of the movie’s wide release on Friday. The ticketed event raised $10,000 for the Tiger Foundation, a nonprofit that benefits Central High School, Nichols’ alma mater.
Two of the Little Rock Nine, Elizabeth Eckford and Thelma Mothershed Wair, were in attendance and were greeted with a standing ovation after they were acknowledged from the stage. Rep. Clarke Tucker (D-Little Rock), the president of the Tiger Foundation, designated Nichols an official Arkansas Traveler. Tucker joked that he had to bend the rules a bit since the honor is usually reserved for non-natives, but as Nichols lives in Texas now and travels often, it seemed appropriate. Central High Principal Nancy Rousseau praised Nichols, who she said had quietly donated money for a mobile computer lab and had visited the school to screen his previous film, “Midnight Special.” Rousseau told Nichols onstage that the kids paid him a high compliment after that visit: “He’s real,” she said they told her. Nichols screened the film again this morning at Ron Robinson for Central students interested in the arts.
Lost Forty Brewing, which is co-owned by Nichols’ longtime friend John Beachboard, organized and underwrote both events, along with another old friend, Spencer Andrews.
“Loving” tells the story of Richard and Mildred Loving, the Virginia couple whose marriage led to the seminal 1967 Supreme Court case that overturned bans on interracial marriage. Nichols almost completely ignores the court drama and instead focuses on the love story. It’s easily his best film, a stunning work that, through nuanced direction and tour de force acting, conveys wellsprings of emotion with little dialogue or conventional drama. Stay tuned tomorrow for Stephanie Smittle’s in-depth feature on the film.
Before the screening, Nichols dedicated it to his grandparents, who he said had a kind of pure love like the Lovings.
Afterward, KARK’s DJ Williams interviewed Nichols. Here are a few snippets:
On why he made the film:
“I think this is just a great love story. I do not believe that Richard and Mildred had an agenda. They were participants in the Civil Rights movement, but they were thrust into that role. … I don’t think they were trying to make us appreciate the concept of interracial marriage. I think they just loved each other and wanted to be married and left alone. …
“At a time when we’re having so many arguments and discussions about equality — not just marriage equality but racial equality — to have two people represent it in such a pure way, that felt important and undeniable. Because who’s going to argue with this? And that’s really the question [the Lovings’ lawyer] Bernie Cohen asks in his oral arguments before the Supreme Court: What is the danger to the state of Virginia of interracial marriage? And the answer is none. We think that’s a simple answer, but for some reason we forget. I just felt like this is something that needs to be said again and again and again.”
On white male privilege:
“I’ve always been a pretty liberal guy. Going to Central High, I felt like I knew something about the history in this country regarding the Civil Rights movement. The reality is I knew nothing … and I still don’t. I’m a white guy born in 1978 in the suburbs of Little Rock. I’ve recognized a lack of point of view that I have for this. There’s a privilege I’ve been afforded that so many people today aren’t afforded. Even though I’ve been aware of it and I’ve been an advocate for fighting against it, I’d never really come to face to face with my limitations.
“We were honored to be the first film to play at the new African-American history museum in Washington D.C. We were granted a three-hour tour, which is not enough. It’s the most amazing experience I’ve had in a long, long time. Richard and Mildred were a plaque in the corner. That’s not to speak to their relevance; it’s because there are so many stories. There were so many things in every floor of that building that I didn’t know about and that we as a society aren’t aware of and they define who we are. I have been consistently floored by my lack of knowledge.”
On the film’s role in a national conversation about equality:
“I think equality is not something we ever really achieve. We’re never going to check the box and move on to some other problem. Every generation has to define it for themselves. In 10, 20, 30 years, they’re going to look back on people our age and say, how did they do in defining equality … and I think we’re lacking. I don’t think necessarily that Richard and Mildred give us the answer, but they do show us how to have the conversation.
“I think a lot of times, especially in years like this one, we get so wrapped up in our political points of view, or religious points of view or even social points of view, that we go to our corners and our eyes roll back in our heads and we have these talking points that we’re ready to force out on everyone … and it has nothing to do with the realities on the ground, or people in their homes. That’s what Richard and Mildred show us … as we pursue our generation’s definition of equality, I think we need to remember what Richard and Mildred are telling us.”