I recently watched the movie Loving directed by Jeff Nichols. The plot surrounds Richard and Mildred Loving, plaintiffs in the 1967 U.S. Supreme Court case Loving v. Virginia that legalized interracial marriage. In the film, the white man and black woman marry in Washington, D.C. and face legal issues in Caroline County, Virginia, where they reside. They are snatched from their bed, thrown in jail and prohibited from entering the county as a couple for 25 years. As I mentioned, the Supreme Court ruled in the Loving’s favor, but much of the movie concerns the injustices they endured.
The day after I saw Loving, I watched the play The Duchess of Malfi at IU Theater directed by Katie Horwitz. The play told the story of the Duchess who secretly marries a man of lower social status. Their affair is considered wrong, and while this clashing of classes is characteristic of a comedy, The Duchess of Malfi quickly turns tragic. The Duchess and her husband Antonio face grave punishments for their union. The themes of the play, though much darker, resemble those of Loving — two people reprimanded for loving each other because of identity differences.
Seeing both of these productions, especially in succession, was unsettling but emboldening. I find it ironic that love is traditionally celebrated and encouraged, but has often been strictly regulated. The controversial marriages in these productions reminded me of stories in my family’s recent history. The Duchess of Malfi is set in the early 1500s, Loving in the mid-1960s — but the stories are still relevant today. Hearing these stories makes me wonder how and if marriage will be redefined in the years to come.