Directed by Betsy West and Julie Cohen
In UK Cinemas January 4th, 2019

by Jon Burns

“The closest thing to a superhero I know,” is how feminist icon Gloria Steinem describes Joan Ruth Bader Ginsburg, aka, the ‘Notorious RBG’. It’s a pretty accurate description.

RBG is an inspirational love letter of a film fondly exploring the life and achievements of the US Supreme Court judge. Bader Ginsburg was President Bill Clinton’s pick for Associate Judge of the United States Supreme Court in 1993, only the second woman to join the court. Aged 85, she’s has been on the bench for 25 years, showing no signs of slowing down.

At the centre of the film is the love story of Bader Ginsburg and Martin Ginsburg, her Cornell university sweetheart. Married in 1954, the pair (aged 18 and 17) had the first of two children in 1955, before she enrolled in Harvard Law school. One of only nine women in a class of 500 men, Bader Ginsburg eventually transferred to Colombia Law School, where she became the first woman to be on two major law reviews, and tied first in her class. She was being noticed as someone with a special talent in law, all the while raising her child, and at one point, nursing her husband through cancer.

A quiet woman, Bader Ginsburg was the serious side of the relationship; a deep thinker, avoider of small talk. Marty was her foil, an outgoing entertaining man who loved to joke; the lighter side of the relationship. There are moments in old footage of the couple where Bader Ginsburg’s big smile at her husband’s wit, her eyes captivated by his gaze, sum up the love and connection the two felt for each other. Genuinely moving and inspiring.

As someone who faced discrimination in the workplace because of her gender, Bader Ginsburg confounded the women’s rights project at the ACLU, deciding to use her talent and understanding of the law to advance the fight for equality. Rather than protest, she used her quiet, thorough and thoughtful but captivating style to chip away at the Supreme Court, in a series of cases defending the rights of both women and men against discrimination based on gender. She won five out of her six cases.

Unusually for the time, the couple decided RBG’s career would take priority. When a position came up on the Supreme Court, it was Martin Ginsburg, a distinguished lawyer himself, who campaigned to make sure Bader Ginsburg was in the running, worried his wife was too humble to put herself in the picture. It was Bader Ginsburg’s 20-minute interview with President Clinton which secured her nomination, her honest opinions on abortion rights, gender equality and privacy helped her confirmation vote of 96 to 3.

Originally a pick aimed at shoring up consensus in the centre of the Supreme Court, Bader Ginsburg has seen the balance of the court shift so much that her values place her firmly on the liberal side, making her more likely to dissent in her opinion these days. These dissents have brought Bader Ginsburg notoriety in the form of pop culture. Memes and tumblr accounts have given the judge the nickname ‘Notorious RBG’, a nod to the rapper of similar name, both Brooklyn born, and both considered badass in their respective careers.

These days Bader Ginsburg is seen by many as the sensible, compassionate voice of the Supreme Court, especially when she dissents against her colleagues. A woman of the people. RBG, is now as well known to a new generation for her long and continued fight towards equality for all, as for her workouts, lifting weights and holding 30 second planks at age 85. It’s an appreciation she couldn’t have seen coming, and one which helps feeds her endless energy.

The superhero description is well deserved, and there is so much more in the film to back that up.


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