RBG (2018) ☆☆☆(3/4): The indomitable RBG

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Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a remarkable woman for many reasons. While she has been known to us mostly for her enduring presence in the US Supreme Court during last 25 years, she already accomplished quite an impressive legal career before that period, and she argued no less than six cases before the US Supreme Court as fighting against gender inequality. It goes without saying that she is one of the most famous feminist icons of our time, and it is really inspiring to see that she is still willing to go on with her life and career even though she is already over 80 at present.

While it is rather plain considering its exceptional human subject, documentary film “RBG” is fairly good enough to engage us mainly thanks to Ginsburg. Although she may look quite and fragile on the surface, we come to sense her brilliant mind and indomitable spirit as watching her interview clips in the documentary, and we also come to admire her a lot as being reminded of how much she has accomplished for gender equality.

The documentary broadly looks around Ginsburg’s life and career. Born as Joan Ruth Bader in Brooklyn, 1933, Ginsburg grew up well under her supportive parents who wanted their young daughter to be educated as much as possible, and she did not disappoint her parents at all, though her mother died not long before she graduated from her high school and then went to Cornell University for higher learning. Remembering two things her mother always emphasized to her (“Be a lady; Be independent”), she went further as entering Harvard Law School several years later, and she talks to us about how it was often difficult for her and a few other female students in Harvard Law School during that time. They often faced gender discrimination, but they knew they must try hard for proving themselves, and Ginsburg surely made a big impression on others when she wrote an article for Harvard Law Review during her second year.

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It was during that period that she met and then married her husband Martin Ginsburg, who was quite different from his wife in many aspects but clicked well with her from the beginning. As a jolly and gregarious guy, he complemented Ginsburg’s more introverted personality, and he was also very supportive of her career as recognizing her ambition and talent. The situation became quite hard for both of them when Martin suddenly got very ill due to a serious case of cancer, but they stuck together as raising their children, and we hear about how busy and diligent Ginsburg was during that difficult time. Once she came back to their home in evening, she took care of their children along with Martin for a while, and then she resumed her study when he and their children were asleep at night, and then she only slept for a few hours during early morning before starting another busy day.

When her husband got hired by a law firm in New York City, Ginsburg moved to Columbia Law School, and she came to graduate in 1959, but she soon faced gender discrimination as looking for a job. At one point, her husband recommended her to his senior law firm partner, but that guy instantly rejected Martin’s recommendation just because Ginsburg was a woman. Eventually, Ginsburg was hired as a professor at Rutgers School of Law in 1963, and it did not take long time for her to become a prominent figure defending the women’s rights. In 1973, she won Frontiero v. Richardson, which led to the equal housing allowance for men and women in military service, and she also won Weinberger v. Wiesenfeld in 1975, which resulted in widowers being able to get special social security benefits for raising minor children just like widows.

In 1980, Ginsburg was confirmed to the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit after being nominated by President Jimmy Carter, and she was later nominated by President Bill Clinton for the US Supreme Court in 1993. Although she was initially regarded as someone a bit too old for the job, President Clinton was quickly impressed by Ginsburg during their meeting, and nearly all members of the US senate approved of her nomination after she did an exemplary job of presenting herself in front of the US senate hearing.

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In 1996, Ginsburg and her colleagues in the US Supreme Court handled United States v. Virginia, and their eventual decision on the case had Virginia Military Institute (VMI) break its conservative tradition and open its door to female cadets. She was disappointed with the court decision on Ledbetter v. Goodyear in 2007, which was involved with gender discrimination in wage payment, but she continued to work for the change wanted by her and many other women in US, and her efforts subsequently led to the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in next year.

While quite disliked by many conservative figures for her liberal viewpoint, Ginsburg has gotten along well with her more conservative colleagues in the US Supreme Court, and that aspect is exemplified well by her long friendship with late Antonin Scalia, whose hardcore conservative viewpoint was quite opposite to everything Ginsburg represents. They frequently disagreed with each other over numerous cases, but they liked and respected each other, and there is an amusing archival clip showing them making a fun of each other in front of many audiences.

I wish “RBG” focused more on why her presence in the US Supreme Court is all the more important these days, but directors Julie Cohen and Betsy West did a nice job of presenting Ginsburg’s life and career on the whole, and I was entertained enough during my viewing although I was often distracted by its rather blatant utilization of several recognizable classic pieces on the soundtrack. It could do better, but I am mostly satisfied to get to know a bit more about Ginsburg anyway.

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