“I ask no favor for my sex, all I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks.”
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
To many young women across America, there’s a feminist icon which stands out among the rest. This woman is Ruth Bader Ginsburg. To those outside the US, we may not be familiar with this female justice; but please do not let this put you off, as we can still enjoy this stunning documentary.
Ginsburg is affectionately referred to as RBG, and has battled for equality laws over many decades. This is a woman who has changed the landscape for women working in America today. And at the grand old age of 85 years old, she is still fighting. We can all look at RBG as an inspiration, and take away so much from this well crafted and emotional documentary.
Like the wonderfully charming, Won’t You Be My Neighbor, RBG helps to remind us that love trumps hate. And both documentaries made my top 10 documentaries of 2018, and both documentaries will be most likely going head-to head at this year’s Oscars.
The film starts by introducing us to Ginsburg in the present day, lifting weights. She’s a remarkable woman, with her statement glasses, paired with a sweater that reads: “Super Diva.” She may seem like a small woman, but she this is a superhero in disguise. From the get go, we know that Ginsburg is a fighter with a sense of humour.
As the documentary unfolds, we discover more of Ginsburg’s life, and we see just how much of a fighter she is. Ginsburg has survived cancer twice, graduated as one of nine women to 500 men in her Harvard law class, and supported her young family, when her devoted husband Marty was himself diagnosed with cancer. If anyone is worthy of wearing a ‘Super Diva’ sweater; it’s Ginsburg.
Directors Julie Cohen and Betsy West explore Ginsburg’s cultural status, and bring us interviews with the likes of Gloria Steinem and Bill Clinton. With archive footage of her championing landmark cases for equal rights during her earlier career as a litigator. The directing duo have previously worked on solo projects regarding Ginsburg, and now successfully team up. They followed Ginsburg around to various meetings and speeches, including in Chicago and Washington, D.C., for a total of 20 hours, and conducted the face-to-face interview in 2017.
These moments are interesting, and help to recap Ginsburg’s career without feeling too heavy or bogged down in political and legal jargon. The documentary counterbalances the archive material with plenty of footage of young lawyers and law students today, who see Ginsburg as their ultimate role model. And it is quite wonderful to see the impact this woman has had.
The documentary works best when it focuses on discussions with Ginsburg’s children, and her granddaughter Clara Spera – who affectionately calls Ginsburg “Bubbie”, and is set to follow in her grandmother’s shoes. RGB also explores Ruth’s relationship with Marty (which is touched upon in the drama On the Basis of Sex). There’s no denying the love and the bond Ruth and Marty shared. During his illness, she tended to her husband and still managed to score top marks in all her law exams. She worked on as little as two hours of sleep a night, catching up on her rest at the weekend.
Watching this documentary, one cannot help but marvel at Ginsburg, and ask ourselves “just how does she do it?” When asked, she replies back that “Law is a consuming love for me.” Directors West and Cohen show how hard she had to fight to establish herself in such a male-dominated profession.
The documentary also focuses on her relationship with fellow Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia. He was an old school conservative, and Ruth is as liberal as they come. They may have disagreed on almost every point of law and politics but they were still firm friends, bonding over their love for opera.
We could all learn from Ginsburg’s and Scalia’s friendship. And the filmmakers suggest that both sides of the political fence should be communicating with each other to help improve society. This is a bold statement to make, and hopefully it doesn’t fall on deaf ears.
RBG isn’t a critical portrait of its subject, which is a fascinating approach to take. Although it may have helped to have interviews with those who oppose Ginsburg, to see what the other side think. There’s so much ground to cover here, though, that it’s hard to grumble at all.
Both West and Cohen have managed to do a grand job. A fine love letter to a woman who has had a significant impact on America. And like Won’t You Be My Neighbor, it will leave a smile on your face, and a tear in your eye.