by Toby Woollaston

rbgWith the anniversary of women’s suffrage fresh in our minds, a film about Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who was a giant in the fight for women’s rights, is a timely release.

You might have noticed the meme “Notorious RBG” bandied about recently; a humorous meld of Ginsburg—a diminutive shy Jewish lawyer—and American rap artist Notorious BIG who is anything but. However, as this doco explains, Ginsburg’s dogged drive and determination for shaking up the establishment shows that there is more truth to the meme’s apparent oxymoron than meets the eye. 

The doco begins by telling Ginsberg’s early life. She was a demure woman who had a penchant for the law-books, but her struggle with sexism within the male-dominated fraternity was something her quiet resolve could not ignore. So she set about illuminating many Judges who didn’t think sex-discrimination existed … rather successfully. Her work in the seventies was immensely influential for woman’s rights and the doco takes us through a handful of foundational cases that she brought before the U.S. Supreme Court during this time. As writer/activist Gloria Steinem puts it “Ruth’s work made me feel as if I was protected by the U.S. Constitution for the first time.”

Documentarians Julie Cohen and Betsy West have chosen to not use narration, meaning much of the information is delivered through interviews. But rather than rely solely on talking-heads to elucidate proceedings, RBG is wonderfully brought to life through a wealth of archival footage and an imaginative use of court recordings and imagery.

Touching on a personal note, the doco also examines the inspiring relationship she had with her husband, Martin. It is a tender love-story of a man who championed his wife’s career right up to and including her eventual nomination into the U.S. Supreme Court. 

While Ginsburg herself may not be the most emotively charismatic person to grace the silver screen, the documentary goes to great lengths to breathe life into her achievements.  And deservedly so, because this is an important film that should be seen.

See my reviews for the NZ Herald here and for Witchdoctor here.