Cap­tu­ring the life of Ruth Ba­der Ginsburg on film

Un do­cu­men­taire cap­ti­vant sur la doyenne de la Cour su­prême amé­ri­caine.

Vocable (Anglais) - - Édito Sommaire -

A 85 ans, Ruth Ba­der Ginsburg, l’une des neufs juges de la Cour Su­prême des Etats-Unis, est de­ve­nue une vé­ri­table icône de la pop culture... et la plus fé­roce ad­ver­saire de Do­nald Trump. Un fas­ci­nant do­cu­men­taire sur sa vie et son com­bat pour l’éga­li­té des sexes sort ce mois-ci dans les salles. L’oc­ca­sion de dé­cou­vrir une fi­gure de l’his­toire amé­ri­caine contem­po­raine, peu connue en France.

As­mall, fra­gile-loo­king wo­man with “Su­per Di­va” stam­ped on her sweat­shirt is stret­ched out over an exer­cise mat in the gym, her face lo­cked in a ric­tus of concen­tra­tion as she does 20 push-ups. “She is like a cy­borg,” says her per­so­nal trai­ner. “And when I say cy­borg, she is like a ma­chine.”

2. At 85, ha­ving al­rea­dy sur­vi­ved bouts of co­lo­rec­tal and pan­crea­tic can­cer, Ruth Ba­der Ginsburg is the pro­ver­bial sur­vi­vor. And she needs to be. There is a ve­ry great deal han­ging on her conti­nued lon­ge­vi­ty as the fourth li­be­ral-lea­ning jus­tice among the nine jus­tices of the US su­preme court.

1. -loo­king à l'air, l'ap­pa­rence / to stamp ici, im­pri­mer / to stretch out al­lon­ger, étendre / exer­cise mat ta­pis de sport / to lock ver­rouiller; ici, fi­ger / push-up pompe / trai­ner en­traî­neur, coach spor­tif. 2. bout pé­riode; ici, épi­sode / a great deal beau­coup (de choses) / to hang, han­ged or hung, han­ged or hung on dé­pendre de, re­po­ser sur / li­be­ral-lea­ning de ten­dance li­bé­rale, dé­mo­crate / jus­tice juge / su­preme court cour su­prême, tri­bu­nal de der­nier res­sort aux É.-U.


3. As such she pro­vides the last line of defense against the forces of dark­ness that are ne­ver far be­neath the sur­face in Ame­ri­can pu­blic life. Not least the cur­rent in­cumbent of the White House whom she fa­mous­ly de­noun­ced be­fore his elec­tion as a “fa­ker” (she la­ter apo­lo­gi­zed). Should Ginsburg va­cate her seat while the fa­ker is still in of­fice, she would give Do­nald Trump the gol­den op­por­tu­ni­ty to lock a con­ser­va­tive ma­jo­ri­ty in­to the na­tion’s top court for at least a ge­ne­ra­tion.

4. In the new documentary RBG, di­rec­tors Bet­sy West and Ju­lie Co­hen seek to ans­wer the mys­te­ry of how such a quiet­ly spo­ken and re­strai­ned per­son not exact­ly re­now­ned for her ef­fer­ves­cence mor­phed in­to a hips­ter icon li­ke­ned to fel­low-Brook­ly­nite, the late rap­per Big­gie Smalls. “We were ta­ken by this jux­ta­po­si­tion of this ve­ry ti­ny, soft-spo­ken 85-year-old grand­mo­ther being

tough, spea­king truth to power and, yes, even doing planks and push-ups. The whole unu­sual­ness of that com­bi­na­tion is what makes her a star,” Co­hen told the Guardian.

5. The film-ma­kers spent the best part of three years fol­lo­wing Ginsburg around the coun­try as she gave lec­tures and at­ten­ded her be­lo­ved ope­ra, as well as conduc­ting in­ter­views in her cham­bers in the su­preme court. It was a daun­ting pros­pect at first. “Des­pite her small sta­ture, Jus­tice Ginsburg is a ve­ry in­ti­mi­da­ting per­son. We ab­so­lu­te­ly found it in­ti­mi­da­ting ini­tial­ly – there isn’t a lot of small talk,” West said.


6. The film marks the 25th an­ni­ver­sa­ry of Ginsburg’s no­mi­na­tion to the su­preme court on 14 June 1993 and of her con­fir­ma­tion two months la­ter with the as­toun­ding ba­cking of 96 se­na­tors to three – a dis­play of bi­par­ti­san sup­port that seems un­thin­kable to­day. One as­pect of her ca­reer the co-di­rec­tors were par­ti­cu­lar­ly keen to ex­plore, though, was the les­ser-known sto­ry of her seis­mic work on wo­men’s rights that consu­med her long be­fore she became a mem­ber of the hi­ghest court.

7. “She would have ear­ned a place in his­to­ry even had she not be­come a su­preme court jus­tice,” said West. “She chan­ged the law of the land for Ame­ri­can wo­men, ma­king sure the US consti­tu­tion ap­plied to men and wo­men equal­ly – that’s a tre­men­dous le­ga­cy.” As the documentary re­lates, in the 1970s Ginsburg played a lea­ding role as a le­gal war­rior for wo­men’s rights. She was to gen­der equa­li­ty what her pre­de­ces­sor on the su­preme court bench, Thur­good Mar­shall, was to race equa­li­ty in the 1960s.


8. Ginsburg ar­gued six gen­der equa­li­ty cases on be­half of the ACLU in front of the su­preme court jus­tices – all nine at that time were male, and most of them obli­vious to the vis­ce­ral dis­cri­mi­na­tion en­du­red at that time by wo­men in the work­place. Des­pite those pre­vai­ling pre­ju­dices, she tur­ned them round and won five cases out of the six.

9. She did so fo­re­ver with the same poise and style – po­li­te­ly, res­pect­ful­ly, but al­ways for­ce­ful­ly – that has be­come her tra­de­mark. Ginsburg says in the film that she in­he­ri­ted her com­po­sure from her mo­ther. “‘Ne­ver in an­ger,’ my mo­ther told me. That would have been self­de­fea­ting. I did see my­self as a kind of kin­der­gar­ten tea­cher in those days, be­cause the judges didn’t think sex dis­cri­mi­na­tion exis­ted.” 10. For RBG, the is­sue of ram­pant sexism was not just a le­gal chal­lenge, it was per­so­nal. She be­gan to train in the law in the 1950s when the pro­fes­sion was consi­de­red by most (male) prac­ti­tio­ners to be un­sui­table for wo­men. She was one of nine wo­men in a class of more than 500 men at Har­vard law school, where she was re­fu­sed en­try by the La­mont Li­bra­ry be­cause of her gen­der. Af­ter gra­dua­ting from Co­lum­bia Uni­ver­si­ty in 1959, not a single New York law firm would em­ploy her. She was tur­ned away by part­ner­ships that to­day she em­ploys to do re­search for her as a US su­preme court jus­tice.

11. Though they be­gan fil­ming RBG be­fore the ex­plo­sion of the #MeToo and Time’s Up mo­ve­ment, the film-ma­kers see their work as for­ming part of a wave of re­cog­ni­tion of the ex­tra­or­di­na­ry contri­bu­tions made by ex­cep­tio­nal wo­men. “There’s a long his­to­ry in this coun­try of wo­men’s sto­ries being un­der­told, but now there’s un­ders­tan­ding that we’ve on­ly been paying se­rious at­ten­tion to half of the po­pu­la­tion,” Co­hen said.

(L'Ate­lier Dis­tri­bu­tion)

Ruth Ba­der Ginsburg was no­mi­na­ted as an As­so­ciate Jus­tice of the U.S. Su­preme Court in 1993.


The mem­bers of the U.S. Su­preme Court, Wa­shing­ton, D.C., June 2017.

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