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On Ruth Negga's emotional power in "Loving"

by Murtada

Ruth Negga gives Loving its heart and soul. From the very first frame, director Jeff Nichols relies on her expressive face to tell the story of Mildred and Richard Loving, the mixed race couple at the center of 1967 Supreme Court ruling that changed anti-miscegenation laws. The Lovings paved the way for generations of mixed race families. Nichols starts with Negga, his camera moving into a close up. A silent moment as we take in her big-eyed, made-for-cinema face. Then the line “I’’m pregnant” and we're swept right into this couple’s story. No need for us to see how they met and fell in love. Negga tells us the whole story with her face and delivery of that line.

Throughout the film, which puts the court cases to the periphery, it’s Negga's face that continues to tell the story...

Negga portrays Mildred's tentatively hopeful joy as she and Richard get married and also registers the deep wound and fear as they are arrested from their marriage bed and incarcerated. As Mildred grows strong, she shows us the resignation then defiance as she battles to get her family recognized by the state. This all leads to one moment about halfway through the film; Mildred gets a phone call that ACLU will take on their case. Again Nichols zooms in from a mid-shot into Negga’s face as the tension loosens off her body and she begins to feel hopeful again. That’s the moment Negga clinches her Oscar nomination and wins the audience’s hearts.

The performance is quiet and internal, but powerful in its emotional payoffs. This intensity from patience is most evident in the scene where the court decision with the Lovings’ victory comes through. Again it's played only on Negga’s face as Mildred takes in the news.

Negga, who’s Ethiopian and Irish, has talked about the personal connection she feels to the Lovings story, telling the LA Times recently:

I was moved by the Lovings’ story because of my own background as a mixed-race person. I was also drawn to this great love story that has never been told.

That personal narrative, plus the performance, which is strong and deserving, should keep Negga in the mix in the very competitive best actress category. The studio backing her, Focus, has won at least one acting Oscar each of the last three years (Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto in 2013, Eddie Redmayne in 2014 and Alicia Vikander in 2015) and managed 2 additional nominations (Felicity Jones in 2014 and Redmayne again last year). The film itself has been warmly, if not ecstatically, received with Negga’s co-star Joel Edgerton getting his share of good reviews. While usually stories about marriage and love get the female actor more accolades, this year best actor is not as competitive. Edgerton might have been at a disadvantage but the studio has been selling them as pair. They have hit a lot of press events since the movie debuted at Cannes in May. These events have helped Negga emerge as this year’s red carpet darling, giving fashion followers lots to rave about with her fantastic looks. Like here. And here. One more.

Do you think that Ruth Negga is on her way to her first Oscar nomination?

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Reader Comments (11)

And it's those eyes. Not since Kate Winslet and Susan Sarandon -- or as far back as Bette Davis -- has an actress possessed such a physically expressive and illuminating pair of eyes. And Negga is certainly skilled at using them to her advantage.

November 15, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterCraig

Such a throwback...the face and eyes of a superstar silent film actress.

November 15, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterSoSue

Yes both Ruth Negga and Rebecca Hall for Christine are two strong contenders. My choices would be.
Ruth Negga- Loving
Rebecca Hall-Christine
Isabelle Huppert-Elle
Sonia Braga-Aquarius
Natalie Portman-Jackie

November 16, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Hintergardt

Those eyes! She's like a modern day Clara Bow.

November 16, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterPHIL

I can't stop looking at her face.

November 16, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

Oh, you've sent me into a whole browse of silent screen actress images. Yes, Ruth Negga easily has those expressive eyes and internal energy.

I haven't seen Loving yet. I love the fashion shots of Ruth Negga though, like the beautiful shots in Vogue magazine with Joel Edgerton. Whoever is running her campaign is really smart. Positioning her with a stylish, elegant, sexy image highlights that the subtlety of her Loving role is really excellent acting.

November 16, 2016 | Unregistered Commenteradri

John, there's no way Annette is not getting in, right?

November 16, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

If people are ppassionate about her that will help her a lot cos she is unknown in a small well reviwed film,she needs passion,she needs Julia.

November 16, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterMARKGORDON

While I do appreciate Negga's work and those eyes, that face, I'm surprised that people are forgetting Marion Cotillard, as far as silent-movie caliber expressivity goes. Those Allied posters and photos are giving me life.

November 17, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

She's also my fave performance of the year, truly unforgettable. Probably missing on an Oscar nom but she's set for a great career from now on.

January 9, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJows

amazing performance, happy she got the nomination.

January 25, 2017 | Unregistered Commentersummer

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