- The Magazine
RBG, Julie Cohen and Betsy West’s entertaining documentary, contends that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has attained the status of icon among liberals. Yet, beyond lighthearted looks at Notorious R.B.G. memes and t-shirts, the film states a more urgent case examining the substance of Ginsburg’s life and legal career.
“We wanted to tell the story of what she had accomplished, securing equal rights for men and women under the U.S. Constitution,” says Cohen. “That’s an important legal story, it’s why she’s such an important historical figure. But we also want [the film] to be a biography of this interesting woman who faced a lot of personal obstacles in her own life — discrimination, for a career woman that was so common for women of her era — as well as an amazing love story.”
In fact, Justice Ginsburg’s late husband of more than fifty years, Marty, is a prominent figure in the film. According to West, merging the Ginsburg love story with the timeline of the Justice’s path to the bench posed a unique challenge. “Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a living person and we didn’t want it to feel like the biography of someone who’s not around,” she says. “So the trick was to structure it going back and forth in time to show her today, not shy away from that, and also then go back and tell you the various chapters in her both personal and professional life.”
The greatest challenge might have been persuading the notoriously private Ginsburg to open up her personal life to public scrutiny. It took some time before she allowed the filmmakers more than indirect access.
“She was comfortable giving her friends and former colleagues permission to start talking to us,” says West. “[But] she held off giving us the main interview for two years. Eventually we asked for access to more of her personal life which she did give us about a year ago. But we waited. We just kind of moved in closer and closer. And then we also got up the nerve to ask her if we could film in her gym. A few months later there we were, our eyes wide open, amazed to see that, in fact, her workout is as vigorous as had been advertised.”
RBG opens Friday, May 4 at Landmark’s Bethesda and E Street Cinemas, and other area theaters. Visit landmarktheatres.com.
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