RBG stands for Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the 2nd female US Supreme Court of Justice. Appointed by Bill Clinton in 1993 and still going at almost eighty six, this Dogwoof documentary by Julie Cohen and Betsy West details the life Ginsburg, her unassuming nature which hides a stealthy determination coupled with an unscrupulous work ethic that has catapulted her to become an American institution, a champion of women’s right, a fighter against gender discrimination, whose popularity amongst millennials over recent years has elevated her to rock star status.
Cohen and West followed Ginsburg in 2016 around to various meetings and speeches in Chicago and Washington, D.C., for a total of 20 hours and then conducted a face-to-face interview with her the following year. Further montage of various older footage as well talking heads were added to give an in-depth collage of Ginsburg’s life. Talking heads include her grand-daughter, her son and daughter, friends, as well interviews with feminist icon Gloria Steinem, journalist Nina Totenburg as well as the two authors Shana Knizhnik and Irin Carmon of the book Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, amongst others.
From her humble Jewish Brooklyn roots to her days at Cornell University where she meets her larger-than-life husband Martin. Then on to Harvard Law School when she was one of nine female students in a class of 500 men. It wasn’t until the 70s when she founded the Women’s Right Project, taking on various legal cases around gender discrimination that she came on to public prominence, not only raising her profile but help pass policies into the US constitution which not only defended woman’s right but also protect against discrimination. Ginsburg was then appointed into Senate in 1983, where her efforts were duly noted resulting in her becoming a US Supreme Court judge.
It's humorous but also refreshing to see Ginsburg becoming pop culture icon to a much younger, especially female, generation from all walks of life who attribute their own careers and aspirations to her. What is most striking is Ginsburg's no-frills attitude, devoid of any ego and fanfare, resting solely on hard work and the perseverance for the achievement of her own goals and in the wider context, the betterment of society and the advocacy of equal rights. Even at the tender of age of eighty-four at the time of filming (she will be eighty-six in March) Ginsburg still remains inconspicuous, petite, wide-eyed peering through her glasses, almost vulnerable to a world much larger than her, yet beneath it all she is a powerful force of good. Her incredible work ethic perhaps came with a personal cost; lack of sleep, less time with her family and bouts of cancer. Nonetheless she is still going strong, working away to the early hours and we are privy to her regimented work-outs with her gym instructor.
There is an air to the documentary of self-congratulation and excessive praise, warranted of course to what Ginsburg has achieved, yet nonetheless still felt. Furthermore, it would have been interesting to see her take on movements such as #MeToo and her views of the numerous sexual allegations of late where her policies may have come into play. But overall RBG is an endearing, heart-felt and inspiring watch.
RBG is out now on DVD and VoD.
Words by Daniel Theophanous @danny_theo_.
Follow Candid Magazine on Instagram here.