Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a Petite but Mighty Force
Upon the conclusion of RBG, a joyous smile stretched across my face, as the feeling of pure elation was my first reaction—yes, 84-year-old Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s biographical film presents an insightful and personal view of an accomplished legendary woman—one who paved the way for women’s equality. Surely a crowd-pleasing, historical film with undercurrents of celebration showcasing Ginsburg’s strategic plans over decades in combating sexism for all.
Directors Betsy West and Julie Cohen provide a documentary that ventures well beyond the standard Wikipedia page, they spotlight a brilliant, progressive women who graduated from Harvard Law School with only nine other women in a class of over 500 men. To convolute her law school situation, she also juggled a 14-month-old baby and a husband enduring chemo treatments for cancer, Marty Ginsburg. From the beginning, even while attending Harvard, she fought sexism—the Dean of Harvard Law boldly asked she and her female law students—”How do you justify taking a seat that could be taken by a man?” I cringed at the conclusion of that line, and others in the audience gasped.
When Marty took a job in New York City, Ruth transferred to Columbia Law School and became the first woman to be on two major law reviews: the Harvard Law Review and Columbia Law Review. Astonishingly in 1959 she graduated with her Bachelor of Law and tied for “first” in her class. Upon her graduation, even though she had stellar grades and glowing recommendations, not one New York law firm would hire her, or any woman. RBG serves as an exceptional portrait of a woman who fought back on sexism at every stage of her professional life, from her Harvard Law days to her challenges of finding employment, to her full-time lawyering work taking on women’s and men’s rights cases, and to her Supreme Court appointment.
What is truly wonderful, is to view the subject, Ginsburg, herself while she reminisces numerous accounts of her loving and supportive husband—Marty, a highly successful New York tax attorney who—happily played a supporting role to his superstar wife. We view sweets moments of the pair together through home footage and televised interviews. He was the cook in the family as verified in humorous conversations regarding her lack of the skill by her two adult children Jane and Steven—apparently, Steven can never eat a particular fish again after his mother, Ruth prepared it. All anecdotes paint a portrait of a woman with a brilliant mind, full of vitality, and one who wasn’t perfect, thus allowing a true humanized tale.
When Ginsburg appears on screen near the beginning of the film, she’s working out while wearing a bright purple sweatshirt bearing two words: “SUPER DIVA!” Her message is clear as Helen Ready’s 1971 song; “I Am Woman Hear Me Roar,” of which, became the anthem for the women’s right’s movement. This petite, yet mighty woman does real pushups—not the fake ones—she’s “all business” even in her workouts. Her trainer, Bryant Johnson of 19 years, calls her a “cyborg machine.” I came to realize that this brilliant woman is following the adage “strong body, strong mind.”
Exploring her love of Opera, she states, “I get carried away, and I don’t think about the cases. The sound of a human singing voice is electric, and themes of justice and mercy are in Opera.” Several opera scenes appear along with a glimpse of Ginsberg herself performing in a non-singing role in which she penned her lines, as the Duchess of Krakenthorp in Gaetano Donizetti’s “Daughter of the Regiment.” It was a one-time, opening night role at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.
Gloria Steinem has high regard for Ginsburg stating, “She’s a superhero!” While Steinem was marching, (fabulous archival footage appears while Janis Joplin belts out a soulful song in the background), Ginsburg devoted countless hours by questioning our countries equal rights laws. The directors liven up the screen, by transposing Ginsburg’s face with ‘Wonder Women,’ and ‘Rosie the Riveter’ the strong-armed icon of WW II. Explanation of her title “Notorious RBG” is by interviews with the creators of the movement; it’s a take-off of the rapper “Notorious BIG.” Also noted is the song “I’ll Fight” sung by Jennifer Hudson, written by Diane Warren, who wrote the song, “Stand Up For Something” for Marshall, the film about U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.
The directors do a tremendous job of presenting several landmark cases Ginsberg carefully and tirelessly presented to the Supreme Court, it should be noted that she won, five of the six cases. These were recounted in an informative manner by use of the original audiotapes while the written words displayed onscreen, along with interviews with involved persons. One point is loud and clear; she has spent a lifetime on the examination of the rules that govern our society.
The brief, interspersed talking heads include childhood friends, former clients, reporters who have long covered the justice beat, her own family, her official biographers, including Gloria Steinem, as mentioned above, Eugene Scalia, NPR’s Nina Totenberg, Sen. Orrin Hatch, Lilly Ledbetter, and others. Justice Ginsburg is now approaching her 25th year of service on the U.S. Supreme Court in the summer of 2018 and has stated she has no interest in retirement.
It’s clear that the death of her mother at the tender age of 17, just before her graduation helped shape her toughness of mind and spirit, she said, “My mother gave me two life lessons, “Don’t allow yourself to be overcome by emotions, and be independent, (meaning, you need to know how to fend for yourself).” Those lessons have guided her—crafting a role model for all to follow—stay fit, remain calm, plot a course for victory, stand up for others, and remain faithful to your goals.
*Authors note, due to my love of fashion, I must tell you about a scene in which Ruth Bader Ginsberg brings out her lovely decorative collars she wears with her courtroom justice robe. People all over the world send her these beautiful collars; some brightly colored, some gold sequins and some that are intricate designs.
** At this writing Ruth Bader Ginsburg is 85 years of age.
Sarah Knight Adamson©
Directors: Betsy West, Julie Cohen
Run Time: 1 hour 36 minutes
Studio: Magnolia Pictures