I wasn’t expecting much when I settled into my seat yesterday to see “RBG.”
Sure, I’d heard of this movie about Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the second woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court and, lately, an internet phenomenon. I knew the film took a look at the life and work of a brilliant legal scholar. What I didn’t realize is how deftly the filmmakers would tie together so much rich material — from archival footage, Congressional testimony, news stories, TV clips, internet memes and interviews — to present a compelling portrait of a woman who has arguably done as much for women’s rights as the late Thurgood Marshall did for civil rights for black Americans.
In a word, Ruth Bager Ginsburg is a powerhouse.
Quiet by nature and tiny in stature, she has been tireless and fearless in using the law to champion the cause of equal opportunity for women. The film touches on a handful of cases she successfully argued before the nation’s highest court to help extend equity to females in the workplace.
While those accomplishments are extraordinary, it’s the personal side of the now 85-year-old justice that makes this movie so endearing. Through interviews with her late husband Marty, their daughter and son, and a host of other friends and professional colleagues, we get a picture of a shy but determined woman who overcame sex discrimination herself in pursuing a legal career when women were actively discouraged from doing so.
We admire Ginsburg’s resolve and focus as a young mother and wife in law school, caring for her cancer-stricken husband (who is also a law student), raising their newborn daughter, and somehow still finding time to keep up her own studies.
We come to realize that resolve and focus are lifelong attributes, that she personifies an only-in-America success story as a Brooklyn-born daughter of immigrants who was educated at Cornell, Columbia and Harvard and taught at Rutgers and Columbia law schools on her way to being named to the federal bench.
(It was President Bill Clinton who named her to the Supreme Court in 1993, making her the second-longest serving justice on the current court.)
But more than a sterling legal career, we see different sides of Ginsburg: an opera lover who is witty and warm; able to become good friends with fellow Justice Antonin Scalia, an arch-conservative who was her opposite in temperament and personality; able to shrug off falling asleep at a State of the Union address; and able to laugh at a parody of her on Saturday Night Live.
Lori and I recently saw “Marshall,” a biographical film about Thurgood Marshall, the first African American to serve on the Supreme Court. While it was entertaining and educational and Chadwick Boseman was solid in his portrayal of Marshall, “RBG” has the added plus of presenting the real, live Ginsburg in her own words.
She, like Marshall before her, is a national treasure. Go see this film and you’ll come away with profound respect for a woman who’s left a towering legacy that benefits our daughters and our granddaughters.