Peter Saraf, producer of the 2016 film "Loving," participated in a question-and-answer session at the Princeton Garden Theater on Dec. 16.
"Loving" depicts the true story of the interracial relationship of Richard and Mildred Loving, who were married in 1958 and subsequently arrested. The couple entered in a legal battle for their relationship that ended in the landmark Supreme Court case, Loving v. Virginia.
“I was amazed to discover this story of really recent American history,” Saraf said, "This is something that happened in my lifetime that I wasn’t aware of.”
The Lovings lived in Central Point, Virginia, a community that Saraf described as “interesting and "fairly racially integrated."
“It was a very poor community; people were bound together by poverty. And there were certainly racial issues but there were a lot of interracial couples, and it was tolerated and even accepted," Saraf explained, "What wasn’t accepted, where [the Lovings] crossed the line, was by getting married. And that just was not acceptable to that community and the legal apparatus of that state.”
Previous films Saraf produced include the Oscar-winning dramatic comedy Little Miss Sunshine (2006), Adaptation. (2002) and Safety Not Guaranteed (2012). Jeff Nichols, the film’s writer and director, had only worked with fictional stories before. Since Loving is based on a true story, it presented new challenges to the filmmakers.
“I’ve produced a bunch of documentary films, which is one thing, but then telling a story that is based on people’s real lives, there’s an extraordinary responsibility, I think, to be honest and faithful to their story,” he said.
Saraf said that he and the film’s director, Jeff Nichols, wanted the movie to focus on Richard and Mildred’s love story.
“When we think about these [social justice] issues, and we sometimes don’t just think about them, we fight about them, and we yell at them and we write op-eds and pontificate about them, and we forget that there’s individuals behind these cases and these cases affect human lives,” Saraf said.
He added that Nichols' conscious decision to tell the story from Richard and Mildred’s point of view makes this movie different from other courtroom dramas the audience is used to seeing.
“Richard and Mildred didn’t go to court, so we weren’t going to go to court," he added. “We stayed with their love story.”
However, Saraf still wanted the film to carry a message about marriage equality.
“The very specific issue of marriage equality is still very much a part of our lives. And the Loving case is the precedent that was behind Obergefell, which was the case that legalized same-sex marriage. These issues of justice and equality are still absolutely very relevant,” he added.
The film crew also made contact with the children of the film’s characters. Peggy Loving, Richard and Midred’s daughter, read the script.
“[Nichols] sat with her while she read the script, and then she looked up with tears in her eyes, and she just said, they’re all gone,” Saraf said.
Richard and Mildred’s sons, Sidney and Donald, passed away from cancer.
The film also focused on the town sheriff, who was strongly against the marriage.
“The sheriff’s daughter got in touch with us when she heard the movie was happening,” Saraf said. “She said, 'I know you’re making this movie and my dad’s going to be a character in this movie, and what I want you to know is, my dad was a loving, good father….I’ve come to know now that he was a deeply racist man, but I experienced him as a good father and a good man, and I just hope that you won’t portray him as evil.'”
Virginia’s current government has also been supportive of the movie.
“The state of Virginia has embraced this movie fully, they’ve embraced this story, they don’t want to hide from what they see as a tainted part of their past,” Saraf said. “They’re not hiding from it, but they’re glad that they moved on from it.”
According to Saraf, the Lovings were able to move back and live "fairly quietly" — part of the community accepted them and part didn’t, but there was no violence.
“Persecution, I think, happens in many different ways and violence happens in many different ways,” he added. “There’s the violence of living under the threat of never knowing what’s going to happen, there’s the violence of living with ‘who’s following me in that car,’ there’s the violence of ‘who’s going to come to my house, who’s out there with a shotgun,’ there’s the violence of being thrown in prison when you’re seven months pregnant and left there over the weekend, and being told that your husband can’t bail you out, that ‘your people’ must. There’s also the violence of being told, you may be in love but your love is not good enough.”
"Loving" is in theaters now. Joel Edgerton, who plays Richard, and Ruth Negga, who plays Mildred, have been nominated for Golden Globe Awards for their roles.