Courtesy of Focus Features

'Loving' Actress Ruth Negga Dissects Mildred Loving And Her Quest For Equality

Actress Ruth Negga dissects the Jeff Nichols directed film Loving, in which a black woman and white man changed the course of American history.

On an oddly warm November day in New York City, the Gemma Restaurant at the Bowery Hotel was patroned by a few. A mother of two holding her son's hand and scolding her pre-teen daughter engulfed in her cell phone as she nearly walked into a bar stool was about as about as busy as the Italian restaurant got during the mid-day. The morning staff was cleaning up as the night staff began stocking glasses, cutlery and plates for the evening rush.

Press had begun for the Jeff Nichols directed film Loving, a romantic drama about interracial Virginia couple Richard and Mildred Loving who were wed in D.C. and began building their life back in the country. Their marriage soon made its way to the sheriff resulting in the couple's arrest. Richard, a white man, was able to make bail the next morning. Mildred, a pregnant 19-year-old however, stayed in prison a few days. To avoid jail time, the court in Central Point, Va., banished the couple to D.C and ordered them never to return for 25 years.

From there, the film follows the couple as their civil rights case, Loving. v. Virginia, makes its way to the Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of their right to marry.  Joel Egerton and Ruth Negga take on the emotionally complex task of playing Richard and Mildred. Despite his tough demeanor, it was Richard who was often paralyzed by fear for himself and his family. Mildred however, continued to fight. Mildred's approach, similarly to her personality, was quiet yet steady. She never made a fuss, but it was her unrelenting zeal to protect her husband and children that motivated her to write a letter to then Attorney General Robert Kennedy, who referred her to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) which would later change history.

Months removed from the role she said she took two years preparing for, Ruth Negga, an Ethiopian and Irish actress walks into the Gemma Restaurant main dinning room holding a plate full of lettuce, tomato and chicken. It was the 34-year-old's first meal for the day. Negga, although 5-foot-3-inches has a much taller and grander personality. Bold in her speech, and matter-of-fact in her responses, Negga admits she's more reactive than the demure Mildred, and has a bit more fire. We sat for 15 minutes or so, and chatted about the film's intricacies and reveal despite the positive outcome, Mildred's true intentions was to keep her family together. Challenging the United States government and winning, well that was just the cherry on top.

Vibe: How did you become Mildred?
Ruth Negga: I did my work, I did my homework I studied her. I studied how she moved, how she walked, her dialect, her vocal intonation and we had this archive of footage that was valuable and in my mind I put it in the gaps. I think when you spend enough time with someone you sort of anticipate their differences. Working with Jeff [Nichols] and Joe [Edgerton] I got to see what they would be when the cameras roll, but I think it’s also an evolution of a human being that starts off as a very young girl and she’s telling [Richard] that she’s pregnant. I mean, It’s a normal response.

In the film, it was Mildred who was more welcoming of the media in regards to getting their story out. Richard was not.
Well he was desperately shy, they both were inherently shy and I think that neither of them, he definitely didn’t want media attention. She saw it as a way to attain what they both wanted eventually. I don’t think she really knew how, but it was small steps of moving in the right direction with raising their family and living where they wanted to and that was the most important thing for Mildred. She didn’t set out to be an activist. She didn’t set out to invalidate the American Constitution, yet those are things that happened and I’m sure she’s glad of it. But how brave would you have been, or I have been to do that? I think if she would’ve seen it in those big terms it would’ve been overwhelming.

Mildred later writes a letter to then Attorney General Robert Kennedy and Kennedy refers her to the ACLU. What do you think she would've done if Kennedy never responded to her letter?
Thats a good question. I think she would have found her way to the ACLU anyway. I think the letter was a turning point in her life when she became committed.

You think the letter is when she became committed, and not when her son got hit by the car in D.C?
Oh no, I think that was when she was going to leave D.C. Those are two different things but they're parallel. She was going to move back home to Virginia, but she became committed to pursue law when her friend said 'You need to get yourself some civil rights.' It was many different moments but I think that if her son didn’t get hit by a car, she was moving [back to Virginia] and she didn’t care. I think the lesson is her pursuing justice, and I think she would’ve found another lane, or another avenue because you have to remember she wrote another letter saying 'Please don’t forget this.' So that’s a woman who’s not letting this go.

How do you think the film will speak to the social media generation that allegedly doesn't believe in relationships?
I hope it speaks to them the same way it will speak to any human being. I think what this film is saying is we are capable of great kindness towards one another. We're capable of great perseverance and we are obsessed with being sane, but what’s wrong with being equally different? I don’t really understand that? It doesn’t mean that we aren’t equal and I’m not saying separately that’s a completely different thing, but I’m saying that differences are there to make us more interesting. Differences are there to make us more intriguing to one another. Differences are there to be celebrated and I think that this film is just another reminder of that.

There's a scene in the film where Mildred and Richard travel back to Virginia to have their baby. Richard goes outside on the porch and his mother says 'Why did you have to marry that girl? You knew better.' Even though white and black people lived well together in Central Point, that part in the film was jarring.
..and Garnett [Ruth’s sister] says ‘You knew what would happen?. Why’d you take her there?’ It’s very important that Jeff Nichols wanted viewers to know that this just wasn’t an upset of the white community, it was both communities and both would’ve seen this as why would you bother? Richard’s friend said ‘Why don’t you just divorce her?' They didn’t understand why would you create any friction? Why would you want to upset what we have because all you’re doing is bringing tension and I don’t think that comes from a place of hatred or racism. I think it comes from community values. We’ve been doing it for this long, why would you bring any hassle into our community? I’m sure there were people who were disappointed, but Mildred and Richard wanted to get married and they wanted to legitimately be on their own, and for their children.

There's also a part in the film where Richard is at the bar with some of Mildred's brothers and the conversation around the table was Richard now knows what its like to be black. How do you think Mildred internalized or felt for Richard's pain?
I think there’s a tradition for black women in those communities that women had to mind their communities, their children and their men, and when you take away a man’s way to provide for his family, or you take away his pride in himself and his relationship, I feel that sometimes women's instinct is to give that back. I think they support their men from that sense and I think she’s doing the same. You see his impression at the jail. He says ‘That’s not right. That’s not fair’ What could he do? And that’s what Will’s character is saying. ‘Now you know what it’s like when you can’t protect your family.’I think that Mildred is just like a lot of women at that time. She’s representing a lot of black women at that and that’s their job is to give back that strength to their men in the community, which I find fascinating.

Has you definition of love changed from making this film?
I don’t believe in the definition of love. I don’t believe you can really define that, It’s too tangible. I think you know it when you see it and I think what [Richard and Mildred] do prove is that it can be such a tangible thing. It’s a very physical thing feeling love for someone. I don’t mean just falling in love and being attracted to someone, I mean really wanting the best for them and wanting to care for them and their respect and you see that in the documentary “The Loving Story: Home” For me they are the epitomes of love.

From the Web

More on Vibe

Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

Yara Shahidi Cast As Tinker Bell In Live-Action ‘Peter Pan’

Grown-ish star Yara Shahidi will portray Tinker Bell in Disney's forthcoming live-action version of Peter Pan, Deadline reports. The cast of Peter Pan and Wendy, directed by David Lowery, includes Oscar-nominated actor, Jude Law, as Captain Hook.

The casting of Shahidi, who is Black and Iranian, marks the first time that a person of color has portrayed the character, previously played on the big screen by Julia Roberts in Hook, a 1991 live-action reimagining of the classic fairytale.

Peter Pan & Wendy will be Shahidi’s second major feature film behind 2019’s The Sun is Also a Star. The 20-year-old actress scored her breakout role in ABC's Black-ish prioer to landing the spin-off Grown-ish. Additionally, Shahidi has appeared on several other hits TV shows such as Scandal, Family Guy, and Wizards of Waverly Place.

The release date for Peter Pan and Wendy is unclear but the film will reportedly debut in movies theaters versus an on-demand release.

Continue Reading
Getty Images

Chris Rock, Megan Thee Stallion Sign On For ‘SNL’ Season Premiere

Chris Rock is returning to Saturday Night Live as host of the upcoming 46th season. The 55-year-old comedian will helm the season premiere next week with Meghan Thee Stallion as the musical guest, NBC announced on Thursday (Sept. 24).

Airing on Oct. 3, the season premiere marks SNL’s return to its headquarters at Rockefeller Center since March. The long-running sketch comedy show went virtual last season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The show will also be Megan’s first time performing solo on the SNL stage (she previously made a guest appearance with Chance the Rapper last November).

October. [email protected] @theestallion pic.twitter.com/J8KUYWngaL

— Saturday Night Live - SNL (@nbcsnl) September 24, 2020

Rock, who has hosted the SNL three times, was a cast member from 1990 until 1993. After SNL, Rock joined the cast of In Living Color, and embarked on a successful career in stand-up comedy.

But he's not  the only In Living Color alum heading back to SNL this season. Jim Carrey has signed on to play former Vice President and presidential hopeful, Joe Biden, on the show.

Continue Reading

‘Antebellum’ Star Janelle Monáe: ‘This World Owes Black Women So Much’

For us Black folk, the fight for social justice in America continues to be a long and arduous fight. Since the day our African ancestors set foot on this land, we’ve endured the chains and whips of systemic oppression and marched arm in arm for our civil and economic rights. Along the way, we’ve witnessed the senseless killing of our Black brothers and sisters at the hands of police brutality and white supremacy.

Let’s face it. Today, 400 odd years later and in the midst of an anxiety-inducing pandemic, being Black in America is still exhausting. Our Black brothers can’t go for an afternoon jog without running into the armed, confrontational, and self-appointed neighborhood watch. Or question their arrest before being handcuffed and forced to lie face-down, while gasping for air under the pressure of a police officer’s knee on their neck. The most disheartening of all is that our Black sisters can’t rest peacefully in their beds without trigger-happy police officers raiding their homes with a fatal shower of bullets.

The gut-punch of it all? Justice for Black bodies is far and in between. And the group less likely to see any form of justice? Black women. The women who’ve carried and birthed nations. The women who’ve fearlessly aided and led historic uprisings while fighting on the front lines to spark social change. In the upsetting case of Breonna Taylor, one of the officers responsible for her death has been indicted on “three counts of wanton endangerment” for endangering the lives of those in a neighboring apartment.

One activist who has been vocal about the lives of Black people in America is eight-time Grammy award-nominated artist Janelle Monáe.

“I feel like this world owes Black women so much. At the very least, it owes us peace...I have to actively fight for my own peace,” shared the actress in a recent sit-down with VIBE correspondent Jazzie Belle. “It's tough, especially when you see your brothers and sisters, that look like you being murdered and killed, all you can really feel is rage. And when that festers in you, it's hard to shake it. It's hard for me to unwatch the videos I watched of Sandra Bland, of Trayvon Martin, of Jacob Blake, thinking about Breonna Taylor, it's difficult. So, you have to actively fight. I have to actively fight for my own peace.”

In the newly released thriller Antebellum, Monáe plays Veronica Henley, a best-selling author and outspoken sociologist. After speaking on the marginalization of Black people in America at an event in New Orleans, Veronica wakes up as Eden, an enslaved woman working on a Louisiana plantation in a Civil War era. As Veronica experiences the past life of slavery, she (Eden) finds her strength and voice to plan and lead fellow slaves to freedom. Even if she fails over and over again.

“I used to say, ‘Black women are superheroes.’ That's not what I say at all. It's not our job to be superhuman. It's not our job to clean up systemic racism or dismantle them,” pointed out Monáe.

“This film [Antebellum] is a look at what it is like for a Black woman to carry the burden of dismantling and deconstructing white supremacy every single day. We persevere through it. We are triumphant, but we shouldn't have to carry that emotional labor and that heaviness every single day.”

This same weight of responsibility can be seen in today’s oftentimes women-led social movements and calls to action in the streets of America. You can see how it’s cinematically embedded as a theme in the twisted Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz co-directed film. But there’s one thing that must take precedence during any physically and mentally demanding mission for change: rest. And those of us protesting for equality should have loved ones around to serve as a reminder of joy and lightheartedness. For self-care is an underrated superpower.

“I think that it's important to surround yourself around people that if you are doing heavy lifting, if you're out there on the front line, if you’re just having a difficult time, [you can] go watch some comedy films,” encouraged Monáe. “Just be around people that make you laugh. That's really important. I think laughter is something that we can do a lot more of together.”

Watch the full interview with Janelle Monáe above. Also, catch our chat with Antebellum's co-directors Bush and Renz where they talk about how one nightmare inspired the film’s premise.

Antebellum, co-starring Gabourey Sidibe, Kiersey Clemons, and more, is available now on premium video-on-demand platforms.

Continue Reading

Top Stories