The movie ‘Loving,’ scheduled to be released this Friday, tells the story of an interracial couple in Virginia whose court case declared Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act unconstitutional. Richard Loving, a white man, married Mildred Jeter in violation of Virginia law, and the movie portrays her as a black woman.
However, Mark Loving, who was raised by his grandmother, claims that there is no evidence of her having black ancestry, but rather that she had Native American roots. NBC reports Mark’s explanation of his grandmother’s identity:
“I know during those times, there were only two colors: white and blacks,” said Loving. “But she was Native American, both of her parents were Native American. Mark says his grandmother always identified as Rappahannock Indian. If you doubt him, look no further than Richard and Mildred’s original D.C. marriage license, which is available online from the Smithsonian. It clearly reads, Richard Perry Loving – white – Mildred Delores Jeter – Indian.
The marriage license is below:
via Smithsonian Magazine
Furthermore, Time reported that in a 2008 interview with Arica L. Colman, Loving blatantly stated that she was not black.
“I am not black,” she told me during a 2004 interview. “I have no black ancestry. I am Indian-Rappahannock. I told the people so when they came to arrest me.”
These revelations raise several questions. If you look at Mildred Loving, most would automatically assume she is a black woman. While the myth that many African Americans have significant Native American ancestry has been debunked (Science reported that the average African American has only 0.8% Native American ancestry), it is reported that Loving’s parents were both part Native American, specifically Rappahannock and Cherokee. But every resource detailing the infamous marital court case includes African American in Loving’s ancestry as well. When she and her husband met as teens, Loving was attending an all-black school.
It seems confusing, and perhaps disappointing, that Loving does not claim her black ancestry, given that at the time, both African Americans and Native Americans faced harsh racism. And many see Mildred as a strong Civil Rights activist of the time due to her and her husband’s nine year court battle to be legally married. But what’s even more confusing is why Hollywood would choose to erase her Native American ancestry when she identified with it so strongly.
The official website for “Loving” (quoted below) summarizes the film without blatantly stating the race of either Richard Loving or Mildred Jeter, but many sites covering the movie clearly describe Richard as white and Mildred as black.
From acclaimed writer/director Jeff Nichols, Loving celebrates the real-life courage and commitment of an interracial couple, Richard and Mildred Loving (Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga), who married and then spent the next nine years fighting for the right to live as a family in their hometown. Their civil rights case, Loving v. Virginia, went all the way to the Supreme Court, which in 1967 reaffirmed the very foundation of the right to marry – and their love story has become an inspiration to couples ever since.
Could it be that Hollywood finds a more black and white (figuratively and literally) story more appealing, or was it an oversight? Or, could it be that the film will at least mention Mildred’s Native American ancestry?