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RBG

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Heartfelt and vibrant documentary of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Image of RBG

Betsy West Julie Cohen/ USA/ 2018/ 98 mins

On Blu-ray from Mon 18 Feb 2019

In the Academy Award-nominated documentary RBG, directors Betsy West and Julie Cohen chart the personal and professional journey of Ruth Bader Ginsburg to the US Supreme Court and beyond. A household name and cultural icon in the US, the film provides an ample introduction for those who aren’t familiar with the woman described by Gloria Steinem as: “The closest thing to a superhero I know.”

The film opens with shots of iconic Washington D.C. monuments as soundbites from commentators describe Ginsburg as a “disgrace,” a “witch,” “vile,” and a “zombie.” It’s clear not everyone agrees with this liberal lawyer’s political views but it’s impossible to watch this lovingly made depiction of Justice Ginsburg without finding yourself impressed and inspired by the achievements of the diminutive octogenarian.

West and Cohen use archive footage and interviews to map the narrative arc of Ginsburg’s extraordinary career and her tireless fight for gender equality. RBG details six crucial gender discrimination cases Ginsburg brought to the Supreme Court as an attorney in the 1970s and tells the human stories behind the lawsuits. The Supreme Court bench consisted of nine white men who were clueless to the daily prejudices faced by women. Ginsburg schooled these judges in male privilege decades before the phrase entered the public lexicon. Her shrewd, well-researched arguments secured wins in five out of six these pivotal cases and marked Ginsburg out as a formidable litigator.

RBG has an enduring love story at its core between the Justice and her college sweetheart, esteemed tax lawyer Martin (Marty) Ginsburg, who died in 2010. Marty was constantly encouraging, promoting and advocating for his wife. Indeed, it was his relentless lobbying that brought Ruth to the attention of President Bill Clinton when a vacancy arose on the Supreme Court bench in 1993. President Clinton was convinced Ginsburg was the right candidate within minutes of meeting her and the US Senate agreed – confirming her nomination with a 96 to three vote.

In her 25 years on the Supreme Court bench, Justice Ginsburg’s championing of LBGTQ rights, gender and racial workplace equality, and reproductive rights have endeared her to a new generation who have dubbed her “Notorious RBG.” Her trailblazing cases are studied in law schools, her famous face is now emblazoned on merchandise, in memes and even tattoos. She is affectionately parodied by Kate McKinnon on Saturday Night Live and a new feature film On the Basis of Sex sees Felicity Jones portray Ginsburg in her early career. Not many people will find themselves having a pop culture moment in their eighties but RBG is no ordinary woman.

The affection directors West and Cohen have for Justice Ginsburg is evident in every frame. This is not a searing character study, it’s a love letter to the woman who fought to improve the rights of women and minority groups in the US for five decades. It’s a vibrant portrait of a woman whose legend will live on long after she hangs up her judge’s robe. RBG was a surprise box office smash in the US last summer, capturing the imagination of audiences despite the deluge of blockbusters movies. Perhaps RBG is a superhero after all.