National Post (National Edition) - - POST MOVIES - Tina Has­san­nia


Ju­lia Cohen and Betsy West’s doc­u­men­tary RBG — about the for­mi­da­ble Supreme Court As­so­ciate Jus­tice Ruth Bader Gins­burg — is a con­ven­tional, ha­gio­graphic doc­u­men­tary that none­the­less paints an in­for­ma­tive, in­spir­ing por­trait of its leg­endary sub­ject, who, at the age of 85, can do push-ups and full-minute planks(!). Her con­tem­po­raries — among an im­pres­sive list of talk­ing heads — joke that they can’t do even half of a push-up.

The film ac­cu­mu­lates a se­ries of com­ments — from the likes of Bill Clin­ton, Glo­ria Steinem, bi­og­ra­phers, and even Repub­li­cans ran­kled by her lib­eral po­si­tions — that, if not in the key of ado­ra­tion, or pro­fes­sional praise, demon­strate re­spect for a woman whose rise in the Amer­i­can jus­tice sys­tem seems noth­ing short of mirac­u­lous.

But it is not an in­ex­pli­ca­ble rise. Gins­burg’s sta­tus is the re­sult of grit, de­ter­mi­na­tion and hard work. She grad­u­ated from Har­vard Law School as one of nine women in a class of 500 men, only to find her­self with­out a job while male peers were snapped up. The film de­tails the mul­ti­ple roles she en­cap­su­lated while es­tab­lish­ing her ca­reer — tak­ing care of her hus­band, Marty, who had tes­tic­u­lar can­cer, teach­ing law, and writ­ing/ edit­ing for var­i­ous le­gal publi­ca­tions, in­clud­ing the Har­vard Law Review — and how she never slowed down or gave up. Even­tu­ally, Gins­burg found her calling in civil­rights cases in which women were dis­crim­i­nated against.

Her first land­mark case be­fore the Supreme Court was Fron­tiero v. Richard­son, in which she suc­cess­fully ar­gued the fe­male plain­tiff, Shar­ron Fron­tiero, a U.S. Army lieu­tenant, should re­ceive the same hous­ing al­lowance as male lieu­tenants. A few hun­dred cases later, Gins­burg had done more than her fair share for sec­ond-wave fem­i­nism by greatly im­prov­ing the rights of women in the U.S. Her sub­se­quent ju­di­cial ca­reer be­gan in the 1980s, and by 1993, pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton ap­pointed her to the Supreme Court. There, she con­tin­u­ously fought for gen­der equal­ity. As the film points out, Gins­burg’s moder­ate stance al­lowed her to del­i­cately com­pro­mise with the more-con­ser­va­tive jus­tices to win for the causes she most val­ued, in­clud­ing abor­tion rights.

RBG is com­mend­able in por­tray­ing not only Gins­burg’s mon­u­men­tal ca­reer but the role model she’s be­come for a new gen­er­a­tion of fem­i­nists. Her sta­tus as a meme-ified “no­to­ri­ous” fem­i­nist icon is talked about in glow­ing terms by all the talk­ing heads — she’s a su­per­hero, in Steinem’s words. The film also touches on Gins­burg’s abil­ity to not only work with con­ser­va­tive­minded peers but even be­friend them, on oc­ca­sion — Gins­burg and Antonin Scalia bond over a love of opera.

Gins­burg proves to be both an easy and dif­fi­cult doc­u­men­tary sub­ject. Her ca­reer speaks for her­self — it’s ques­tion­able whether or not her Wikipedia ar­ti­cle would suf­fice on the sub­ject, rather than watch­ing a 90-minute film — but the wit and colour with which Cohen and West bring to their film makes RBG a solid, un­chal­leng­ing view­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for Amer­i­can po­lit­i­cal nerds who will soak up the de­tails, and a good ad­ver­tise­ment for Gins­burg’s re­cent biog­ra­phy No­to­ri­ous RBG. ΩΩΩ

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