‘RBG’: Justice’s inspiring story plays CNN
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg saw “RBG,” the documentary of her life, for the first time at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.
Directors Betsy West and Julie Cohen watched their subject’s every reaction, not the screen, West recalled. “Afterward, she volunteered that the film exceeded her expectations,” West said. “We were very relieved.”
Moviegoers have been very impressed, and the film has grossed nearly $14 million. The inspiring story of Ginsburg, 85, premieres at 9 p.m. Monday, Labor Day, on CNN.
“Here is a woman who faced a lot of challenges in her own life,” West said. “She overcame those challenges and then did something that helped every other American woman.”
Attorney Ginsburg battled gender-based discrimination by stressing that it hurts everyone and won five of six cases she argued before the U.S. Supreme Court. The documentary takes her 1993 confirmation hearing to the high court as its structure.
“She was very forthright, didn’t avoid answering any difficult question, just laid it out there,” West said. “She sets up her background as a daughter of immigrants, then takes you through the various chapters of an extraordinary story.”
The Senate confirmed her, 96-3. Her appeal is broad: She befriended conservative Justice Antonin Scalia.
“That seems to be a template for a certain kind of civility that we have lost in our polarized world,” West said. “They truly were good friends. That’s not so common today in Washington or in other places where people are having a time talking to each other when they don’t agree politically.”
The film explores her closest relationships. At 17, she lost her mother, Celia Bader. Ginsburg “has emulated her example of both independence and refinement,” West said.
A 56-year marriage to tax attorney Marty Ginsburg, who died in 2010, is key to understanding the justice. They were equals in marriage and in raising their two children. He was witty and adoring, and “RBG” becomes a touching love story.
The film presents cancer survivor Ginsburg giving speeches, working out and chuckling at Kate McKinnon playing her on “Saturday Night Live.”
“We didn’t tell her what it was,” West said. “She looks at it and says, ‘That’s ‘“Saturday Night Live”’? We said yes. She just burst into laughter.”
The film has touched older women, who have come out crying because they know what Ginsburg faced, and wowed little girls, who have worn Ginsburg collars and glasses. “There is something about this elderly, tiny grandmother who inspires young girls to see that they can stand up for themselves and make a difference,” West said.
“People are looking for a hero, for inspiring stories, to celebrate a person of integrity and fascination,” West said. “I’m very happy they found the movie. There are an awful lot of good documentaries that come and go. We’re lucky that Justice Ginsburg had a kind of notoriety already. She was already a rock star with the generation that dubbed her Notorious RBG.”