Have you ever answered a question so many times in your life that you can’t help but regurgitate the same response after a deep sigh? I don’t mean to, but whenever I’m asked, “What are you?” it just comes out.
I am, for the record, a mixed-race woman of white British and black Jamaican descent. My mother’s parents arrived after the late 1940s Windrush generation and resided in south London for the rest of their lives. I grew up in a predominantly black area but maintained such great relationships with both families that I didn’t realise I was a minority until I had to tick the “other” box on a form aged 11 because “mixed-race” wasn’t listed.
The same smooth upbringing was not experienced by the children of Richard and Mildred Loving; an interracial couple from Virginia who spent years fighting what was at the time referred to as “anti-miscegenation laws", which criminalised interracial marriage. Loving, a new film out next month, tells their story with subtlety, but can still sucker-punch you right in the gut. They won their landmark case 50 years ago, and just as future generations won’t believe how long it took for same-sex couples to have the right to marry, it’s very difficult to know that at some point in my mother’s lifetime, she wouldn’t have been able to marry my father. And Loving comes not long after A United Kingdom which focused on the relationship between a prince from Botswana and white woman from London. So are we in the midst of a mini movie trend?
Most agree there are more stories to tell than those about white men so asking for interracial couples feels like throwing a glass of water into an ocean, but I don’t want to wait another decade before I see a rom-com with Kat Dennings and Chadwick Boseman
Movies with similar subject matters released in quick succession is not new (see also: Armageddon/Deep Impact, Antz/A Bug’s Life and Capote/Infamous), but it certainly feels like we’re beginning to look back at important interracial relationships in cinema because they laid the groundwork for the world’s growing biracial landscape. And while I welcome these stories (I hadn’t heard of the Lovings before 2016), it still feels like mixed-race people and their relationships are not represented on screen in a modern way. When it comes to films, the words “diversity” and “representation” are bandied about so often they’ve nearly lost all meaning, but I was so interested in Loving and A United Kingdom because I could see myself in them. Not as only as Mr and Mrs Loving, but as their children who see their parents first and dual heritages second.
“Mixed-race” is the fastest growing minority in the UK, but people can still experience difficulty accepting and being accepted.I consider myself lucky that I didn’t. In my house, we watched both The Real McCoy and Only Fools and Horses, and you were just as likely to hear The Police blasting from the speakers as you were 2pac, but in movies I only ever saw reflections of myself as one or the other. As a child, the closest I got to an interracial relationship was Princess Ariel and her Jamaican-twanged friend Sebastian in The Little Mermaid. Even the most successful mixed-race actresses I’ve watched over the years – Halle Berry, Thandie Newton, Paula Patton, Ruth Negga, Zoe Saldana, et al – are called “black", which in itself harks back to the shameful “one drop rule” of 19th- and 20th-century America.
Cinema has tackled interracial relationships in many ways from 1967’s Look Who’s Coming to Dinner to 2001’s Save the Last Dance, but how many romantic films can you think of with an interracial couple where their races are not a plot point? Hitch is the closest we’ve had in recent memory, and even then Will Smith explained that Eva Mendes was cast because producers were worried about alienating white audiences if he starred opposite a white woman. This film was released in 2005, and an interracial couple on screen was still seen as taboo. As usual, television is leading the way with Aziz Ansari dating a white woman in Netflix’s Master of None, and Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Mackenzie Davis smashing both interracial and queer relationship barriers in the latest season of Black Mirror.
Most agree there are more stories to tell than those about white men so asking for interracial couples feels like throwing a glass of water into an ocean, but I don’t want to wait another decade before I see a rom-com with Kat Dennings and Chadwick Boseman. Or John Cho and Tessa Thompson. Or Constance Wu and Chris Evans. When will our generation get something as iconic as Kirk and Uhura’s televised kiss in 1968?
In Loving, the only thing Richard (Joel Edgerton) wants the US Supreme Court to know is that he loves his wife, and as I came home to my white husband after watching the film, I felt truly grateful that I live in a time and a country where loving him is not illegal. But I think a true representation of interracial relationships must both acknowledge the heroes of the past while reflecting on our present, and I fear we may have a long wait.
A United Kingdom is still showing in selected cinemas; Loving is released on February 3.