As mentioned in a previous post about Richard and Mildred Loving, on June 12, 1967, in a unanimous decision, the justices of the Supreme Court found that Virginia’s interracial marriage law violated the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. Not only did this ruling overturn the criminal conviction of the Lovings in 1958, it overrode the anti-miscegenation laws of sixteen states, including Virginia and Maryland.“Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual, and cannot be infringed by the state,” Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote.
This movie followed, bringing public attention to the ruling.
The couple had met while in Hawaii, fallen madly in love and embarked on a whirlwind romance which culminated in a decision to be married within a matter of weeks. John Prentice is a doctor who had earned a great reputation for himself and was flying to Geneva the following morning. Joanna Drayton was determined to follow him in a week and to marry him there. But first, John needed to get permission from Joanna’s father.
Joanna is certain that her parents wouldn’t be the slightest put out by the fact that John is negro. After all, her father is known for his liberal opinions, which he printed regularly in black and white in his California newspaper. Her mother is an open-minded artist, and Joanna is very close to both her parents. She believes they will be happy for her and gladly give their blessing.
John isn’t quite as confident as Joanna, and it turns out his instincts are right. Despite all their talk about equality, her parents never considered the fact that their principles might be put to the test in such a real and personal way. It had all been very theoretical. Now they only have one evening to decide how they feel about having a black man for a son-in-law.
When John phones his parents to explain that he’s not coming to visit them before he boards another plane because he’s met a girl, he fails to mention that the girl is white. Joanna takes the phone from him and invites his parents to dinner, and when they meet her, they are as shocked as her parents had been meeting John.
Both their fathers analyze the relationship from a practical mindset and lay out all the potential consequences, while the mothers shake their heads and wonder why old men forget how it feels to be young and in love. Spoiler alert: in the end, Joanna's father gives his blessing.
“But you do know—I'm sure you know—what you're up against. There'll be a hundred million people right here in this country who'll be shocked and offended and appalled at the two of you. And the two of you will just have to ride that out. Maybe every day for the rest of your lives. You can try to ignore those people, or you can feel sorry for them and for their prejudices, and their bigotry and their blind hatreds and stupid fears. But where necessary, you'll just have to cling tight to each other and say screw all those people! Anybody could make a hell of a good case against your getting married. The arguments are so obvious that nobody has to make them. But you're two wonderful people who happened to fall in love… and happen to have a pigmentation problem.”
Due to the era in which the movie was made, the acting feels stiff and it's full of stereotypes that some might find offensive. But all in all, I think it's a sweet film that demonstrates how each and every one of us can be hypocritical and narrow-minded without even realizing it, and sometimes we just need someone to challenge us to think through the issue with fresh eyes.
Although I thought Joanna seemed a little too naïve and impulsive, I admired her whole-hearted dedication to John despite the adversities she knew would come as a result. She was impressed with his intelligence, kindness, and character, and they had plenty of chemistry between them. From her rather innocent perspective, what was there to reconsider?
From John's point of view, he had been single for years since the death of his wife. One day he met a woman with whom he felt a connection, the type of connection that's worth turning your life upside and risking everything for. You can't force that kind of thing, and you can't control with whom it happens either. He knew what love felt like, and he knew what being content alone felt like. When he met Joanna, he knew that what they shared was special.
If you haven't seen it before, I recommend giving it a chance. I'd be shocked if it didn't make you smile.
Another movie along the same lines, which I love for a variety of reasons, is "Corrina, Corrina," starring Whoopi Goldberg and Ray Liotta, made in 1994. So now you have two more titles to add to your list of romance movies to watch in celebration of Valentine's Day. And a word to the wise, don't eat those candy hearts. They taste like chalk.