Jeff Nichols writes a good southern yarn. In the 2014 release of MUD starring Matthew McConaughy along with the star power of Reese Witherspoon and a couple of then newbie youngons, (Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland) Nichols managed to write and direct a film that was as reminiscent of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn as Apocalypse Now was to THE HEART OF DARKNESS. White directors like their traveling and documenting colonizers of old are increasingly being held to a new standard of authenticity.
With this in mind, this author asks, what can we expect from a promising director? Can such a young director be trusted with such sensitive history? Time will tell as sources now indicate that Nichols has been handed a daring piece of history to bring to the screen. The piece of history is Loving v Virginia, 388 U.S. 1. This case, a landmark United States Supreme Court decision undid the barring of interracial marriages. It is a floating in time and deceptive iceberg of American history that can open a new closed can of worms. It was brought by plaintiffs Mildred D. Loving ( a women of two lineages African American and Native American) and Richard P. Loving (a white man). The case shows that these people traveled out of their home state of Virginia, were married and thereafter, upon their return, were convicted for violating the RACIAL INTEGRITY ACT OF 1924. The movie is aptly named: LOVING. While the recent (here now in 2015) Supreme Court decision on gay unions promises to break the log jams of state laws that have prohibited gay unions, the darkened waters of miscegenation are none the less dredged up from the bottomless pit of America's nightmarish racism. Numerous documentaries and politica pundits have likened the gay rights as in PARIS IS BURNING to those of the civil right of the 1960's. Those and thier causes are too numerous to mention here; yet they are often confused with the civil rights agenda of the 1960's. No movie thus far have exposed the powerful gays rights advocates for their own intra-racism. Nonetheless, time will tell.
As to the movie LOVING, Despite a release date of sometime in 2016, the question remains can, Jeff Nichols sail into the treacherous waters of sterilization ;Not to mention the murky science of Eugenics In the United States and come out unscathed? Indeed when questioned, Nichols himself has stated that he chooses to live and work in the areas that become settings for his films. He shuns the Hollywood (Los Angeles) lifestyle and still lives in the south. All that's has proven well and good as he has stayed written only fiction and like his movie MUD he has situated them close to the shores of the Mississippi River. How will he swim so far from the land that brought us TAKE SHELTER & SHOTGUN STORIES?
Looking at his most recent film MUD.....
I enjoyed MUD. I loved how 'Mud' the character (McConaughey's) embodies that ole sage that who is often used to impressed young boys on the verge of manhood. In this tale, they (Ellis and Neckbone) find Mud hidden away from civilization. Not far yet far enough that he is hiding from the law. The Arkansas landscape is as filled with small towns. Small towns filled with low-lifers who like the wild animals border the wilderness. Such settings are familiar as any outpost of western yore. desperadoes are a plenty in both southern novel and hence southern screenwriting. When these boys find Mud, they chose to help him rather than 'snitch him out'. Young Ellis (Sheridan) is love sick and Neckbone (Lofland) a 'Doubting Thomas' did great jobs with the dialogue provided them. Nichols' familiarity with the southern drawl as well as that of 'huntin' and 'fishin' (both real-life favored past times of the young actors) made them an easy casts. They managed to bring not only life but a certain authenticity to Nichols' written pages. Heck,even Reese Witherspoon's performance as Juniper (Mud's seren held up in a motel) was reminiscent of Christina Ricci's 'Rae' in Craig Brewer's BLACK SNAKE MOAN. Such steamy sex appeal had to have the right dose of slut-factor and southern charm to make the audience withhold judgment.
All in all MUD delivered a well acted and believable tale by a director who heretofore has only swam in familiar waters. Such is the history of a white guy about to deal with not only a landmark case but a black female character, who married a white guy in defiance of the law. Does he have the right stuff to pen a story? Can he create believable characters who came to be symbolic?
Movie lovers like film critics seem divided when directors such as Spike Lee voices reservations about Black subject mattered films only getting Oscar recognition every ten years or so. Lee and movie fans alike also are vocal about white directors for their historical inaccuracies when it comes to creating fictional account of slavery and the like. Yet increasingly from Steven Speilberg's AMISTAD (1997- also starring McConaughey) down to Ava DuVernay's SELMA( 2014) we find films dealing with the plight of peoples of color as historical facts yet moving that subject-matter toward a more entertaining and less didactic format.
Such an approach suggests audiences will adapt to controversial subject matters as long as the delivery is framed with a fair amount of ironic twists. In the Movie Mud, McConaughy character seems every but a twist on THE Jim (a slave in Mark Twain's novel) yet Nichols' Mud is portrayed as white. The ironies needs to pay homage to its origin yet not be hammered as long as the illusion is there. See the DVD cover for MUD. McConaughtey looks like a mad mad and a black man in repose. The suggestion hearkens this tale back to a slave narrative.
Just what does a director from Little Rock (home of CENTRAL HIGH SCHOOL -made famous for its place in history with the Little Rock 9) have to say about the Lovings as a people trying to abide by their love for one another. Here we have two adults who were charged for violating a law deemed necessary to keep white blood pure. On January 6, 1959, the Lovings pleaded guilty and had their sentence to one year in jail set aside as long as they left the state of Virginia. They did. But they also wrote then attorney general Robert F. Kennedy about their situation.
So far Ruth Negga, an actress of Ethiopian descent and Joel Edgerton ( from Australia) have been cast to play the couple.
Can we expect a performance reminiscent of Sidney Poiter and Katherine Hep[burn in the 1964 GUESS WHO IS COMING TO DINNER? Perhaps Nichols we harken back to the melodram of Douglas Sirk's IMITATION OF LIFE (1959). Neither would suffice This film has to be Nichol's own. Yet the facts remain as black and white as the era from which they came. Racism and Eugenics are here.
In closing I challenge the readers to read Samuel Jackson's interview in RAKE. Therein, Jackson speaks as frankly as his characters always do. When asked what he thought of Steve McQueen's directorship of 12 YEARS A SLAVE as well as Daivd Oyelowo protrayal of Martin Luther King, Jr. in SELMA, he sounds off in a vain only capable of being issued by one who is descendant from those who have been targeted by Eugenics.