RBG — Film Review


Directed by Julie Cohen and Betsy West



This is an honorific presentation of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.  I would  not call it a documentary.  It is an infomercial.  It is a promotional piece.  Its purpose is to elevate Ginsburg to iconic status.  There is a great deal of biographical information about Ginsburg presented as well as the highlights of her legal career and the battles she fought in the courts and before the Supreme Court for the legal rights of women.

I am in sympathy with much of her outlook and achievements in regard to the legal recognition of women’s rights and equal treatment for women under the law and in the workplace.  This film, however, is not an in depth analysis of the changing role of women in society and the impact of the changing legal status of women on families and their relations with men.  There is very little of cultural context presented.  The film does not extrapolate very much on the ramifications of Ginsburg’s decisions and thought on society.  It sticks to a warm, fuzzy, feel-good presentation of Ginsburg as she is regarded in the eyes of her admirers and family members.  In other words, the film is one-sided and manipulative.  I don’t consider it a good biography.

At the same time, I would recommend that young women, especially, go see it.  They do not know what it was like for women way back when and how the battles that Ruth Bader Ginsburg fought created the conditions under which women live and work today.  It is also valuable that young women have positive, constructive role models and Ruth Bader Ginsburg is such a person, and indeed many young women are drawing inspiration from her life’s work and her character.

Her husband apparently had a lot to do with promoting her for the position on the Supreme Court.  He was a skilled attorney in his own right, with extensive contacts, initiative, and promotional skill, but the film treats him as a lightweight, as a kind of comic relief to contrast with Ruth’s sobriety and seriousness.  Their marriage seems to have been successful, but the film offers no insight or understanding of that either.  You get a pretty good feel for Ruth’s character and temperament.  She’s an extremely driven, hard working person.  She likes the opera, and has actually appeared in one as a speaking performer.  She doesn’t know how to turn on the TV in her own house — which is something she has in common with me.

Generally, the film is a good overview of the life and work of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.  You come away with a good feeling for who she is and for the issues and views she stands for.  The film does not offer an in depth look at any aspect of her life, but it does hold her up as a kind of heroine in the legal struggle for equality for women under the law and in the workplace.  It is sure to be admired by career oriented women who are struggling for equal treatment and respect in predominantly male work environments.