The most inspiring moments in history are those sparked by ordinary folk. That's the case of the history that unfolds in "The Loving Story" (9 tonight, HBO), an inspiring documentary that tells the story of the couple who got interracial bans overturned in 16 states in the U.S.
It is the story of Richard Loving and Mildred Jeter; he was white, she was African-American and Native American. They married in Washington, D.C. in 1958, then returned to Virginia, their home state. There, they were jailed and then convicted of miscegenation. They were told that if they wanted to avoid a year-long jail sentence, they would have to leave the state and they could only return separately.
But the call of home was too strong for the Lovings. So one day, in exile in D.C., Mrs. Loving wrote a letter to the U.S. Attorney General -- Bobby Kennedy -- asking for help. That led to lawyers from the ACLU.
The Lovings are simple folk; their take on what's happening to them is simple: they are in love, so why can't they be together? The simplicity of that argument gives the film a powerful tug. The racism of the miscegenation law, and those who enforce it, seems especially stupid in the face of the Lovings' quiet strength.
And they are an interesting couple. As one lawyer points out, Richard Loving looks like the kind of redneck who would be among those running the Lovings out of town. He is a man of few words; his wife, graceful and lovely, is more talkative. Just their visual defies stereotypes.
Yet, the Lovings quiet ways and plain spoken reason works against the film in some ways. The film includes archival footage of both (and some gorgeous stills of them and their children) but their story (of their meeting, their love, their case) is so straightforward, it's not very compelling.
That also makes the film more about the case and the attorneys. And while ACLU lawyers Bernard S. Cohen and Philip J. Hirschkop give good insight and background to the case, following a legal case (a real one versus a fictional TV one) isn't exactly riveting, although the filmmakers make it as accessible and interesting as they can.
Those filmmakers, by the way, include some N.C.-related folk. The director and producer is former Durham resident Nancy Buirski, who founded the Full Frame Festival; the other producer and editor is Durham's Elisabeth Haviland James, and the film's co-writer is Susie Powell, a Nash County native.
"The Loving Story" ends with a sad coda. But you can't help but be impressed by a couple who loved deeply enough to take on the law, and in the process teach us what loving each other and loving home really means.