Filmic Contributions to the Long Arc of the Law: Loving and the Narrative Individualization of Systemic Injustice

50 Creighton Law Review 693 (2017)

27 Pages Posted: 15 Jun 2017

See all articles by Alanna Doherty

Alanna Doherty

City University of New York (CUNY), School of Law, Students

Date Written: November 30, 2016


Released on the cusp of the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in Loving v. Virginia and in the midst of an uncertain political climate, Jeff Nichols’ Loving (2016) is a historical film charged with contemporary meaning for cultural and legal ideology. Loving presents a predetermined legal narrative as its filmic narrative, and in doing so, repackages the Lovings’ historic civil rights struggle against wider systemic oppression as a personal victory won by triumphant individuals through the power of love.

This essay (1) examines the ideological connection between film and law, particularly as enabled through film’s affective realism, and their similar use of narrative and shared ability to influence what is deemed normative within a society; (2) addresses how Loving, distinctly as a film that tells the story of the Loving v. Virginia plaintiffs, serves to successfully narratively individualize what was and is a shared struggle against institutionalized oppression; (3) critically considers Loving as a civil rights nostalgia film, and examines what implications that may have for current legal issues that manifest from the same racism that prohibited interracial marriage; and (4) ultimately looks to a different, more optimistic reading of Loving specific to the post-election context in which it was released.

Whatever the intention of its creators, the receipt of Loving at this moment in time comes with a particular academic responsibility to examine the work it does as a narrative within mainstream culture. Cases, especially Supreme Court cases, are litigated based on narrative; so legal narrative clearly contributes to which claims are deemed redressable in the eyes of the law. Mainstream cultural narratives — especially those disseminated through film, by nature of its affective connection to reality; and especially those, like Loving, which take as their filmic scope the underlying narrative of a case for which the legal outcome has already been decided — help to determine what experiences and types of existences become normalized. In the long arc of social progress, then, a more expansive concept of normalcy broadens which narratives will be accepted by a court that slowly reflects shifting mores, and therefore broadens who the law stands to protect. Loving, as a narrative about narrative, with the power to impact the law, shoulders a heavy ideological burden in a time when racial hate is on the rise and where many Americans feel like their president cannot be trusted to protect them.

Keywords: Legal Narratives, Individualization, Anti-miscegenation, Affirmative Action

Suggested Citation

Doherty, Alanna, Filmic Contributions to the Long Arc of the Law: Loving and the Narrative Individualization of Systemic Injustice (November 30, 2016). 50 Creighton Law Review 693 (2017). Available at SSRN:

Alanna Doherty (Contact Author)

City University of New York (CUNY), School of Law, Students ( email )

2 Court Square
Long Island City, NY 11101
United States

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