When my daughter Elissa invited me to go see the documentary RBG, about the life of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, I was happy to go. It was an opportunity to spend time with my eldest child, in the fun and unique atmosphere of Bookhouse Cinema. And it was an opportunity to learn more about the woman behind the justice robes and collars, the occasional headline, and the artsy Notorious RBG posters.
RBG highlights the life and work of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The biographical documentary, directed by Julie Cohen and Betsy West, carries a PG rating and has a run time of 1 hour and 38 minutes.
This well done docudrama follows the life of Ruth from her childhood in Brooklyn, New York, through her years as a law student and attorney, when it was a struggle to be taken seriously because of her gender, to the current role she plays, on the Supreme Court and as an unexpected cultural icon.
Young Ruth was taught by her mother to be a lady, which to her meant, be your own person and be independent. This petite, reserved woman, who avoids small talk but speaks up powerfully when she has something to say, has certainly embraced her mother’s idea of a lady.
The film looks at her accomplishments, which are extraordinary and many, however the focus is on the woman. Using personal interviews with Ruth, interspersed with historical photos, videos, and audios, and candid chats with her children, granddaughter, friends, and colleagues, Cohen and West weave together a moving tribute to a life well lived.
Ruth married Martin Ginsburg and had her daughter Jane before enrolling in Harvard Law School, one of nine women among 500 classmates. When Martin took a job in New York City, Ginsburg 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. In 1959, she earned her Bachelor of Law at Columbia and tied for first in her class.
When she had difficulty finding employment, she entered academia, one of fewer than 20 female law professors in the US at that time. Early in her adult life Ruth became a voice for women and a staunch supporter of equality for women, especially in the workplace. She co-founded the Women’s Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in 1972 and, in 1973, she became the ACLU’s general counsel. The Women’s Rights Project and related ACLU projects participated in over three hundred gender discrimination cases by 1974. As the director of the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project, she argued six gender discrimination cases before the Supreme Court between 1973 and 1976, winning five.
She attained a reputation as a skilled oral advocate. Ruth chose her plaintiffs carefully, representing both females and males, to show that gender discrimination was harmful to women and to men. Her work led directly to the end of gender discrimination in many areas of the law.
Ruth was nominated by President Jimmy Carter in 1980, to a seat on the United States Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit. Her service terminated on August 9, 1993, due to her elevation to the United States Supreme Court. Nominated by President Bill Clinton, Ruth Bader Ginsburg was only the second female appointee, after Sandra Day O’Connor.
One can go to Google to discover more fascinating facts about this feisty 85 year old woman. What I loved most about the documentary was getting a glimpse of Ruth’s compassionate heart and soul.
She and Martin had two children, and enjoyed a long and marvelous marriage, until his death in 2010. They complemented each other perfectly, two strong individuals who respected and appreciated and loved each other.
Ruth’s best friend was Justice Antonin Scalia. Even though they agreed to disagree on interpretations of the law, and had very different viewpoints, they shared a long and happy friendship. How inspiring, to see them attend opera performances together, travel the world as companions, and speak highly of each other. When friends of hers complained about the seating arrangement on an elephant in India (Ruth was seated behind Scalia), she pointed out, with great amusement, that it was a simple matter of weight distribution.
This woman makes a difference in the world, and in the lives of others, one decision, one dissent, one ruling at a time. She accepts her ascent into pop culture with a casual shrug and a smile. She laughs over Saturday Night Live portrayals of her. She spends time at her beloved opera, without her best buddy, since Antonin passed away in 2016. She receives collars from around the world, to wear over her robes. She is quietly fierce as she seeks justice.
I left the sold out showing of the documentary deeply appreciating RBG. She inspires me to see the world in a bigger way and to meet people who think differently than I do with openness and compassion. And she inspires me to make a difference in my world, in my own unique way, and to help as many people as I can along the way.