Who is the Notorious RBG?
Ruth Bader Ginsberg is the subject of two recent films, the Oscar and BAFTA nominated RBG, and the biopic On the Basis of Sex. Curzon podcaster Kelly Powell takes a look at the key moments in this incredible woman’s career.
Ruth Bader Ginsberg is a figure we have become well-acquainted with in popular culture — on mugs, badges and t-shirts everywhere we see her image, transformed to reflect her ‘gangster’ or ‘badass’ persona, ‘Notorious RBG.’ She appears in many a meme, has been regularly spoofed by Saturday Night Live and is even tattooed on the skin of some of her most hardcore Feminist fans, further solidifying her place as the pop culture icon she has most definitely become.
She is a figure heralded as a real-life superhero, fighting for justice and equality at a time when it feels most necessary. She has been tirelessly and relentlessly chipping away at just laws since the early 1970s, where her first win in the United States Supreme Court would begin her entire life’s work: the eradication of all laws, under the U.S. constitution, that prejudicially discriminated on the basis of sex. But who is Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the woman?
There’s no doubt her larger than life persona is attributed to her legal ‘fierceness’, as a lawyer and eventually a Supreme Court Justice, but the journey to where she is today was not an easy one. The superhero that is Justice Ginsburg has her own origin story… Two, in fact, if we’re talking cinematically! Her life and times is the subject of two feature films, Mimi Leder’s On the Basis of Sex and the Oscar-nominated documentary RBG.
Ruth Bader be-Ginsburg
1954: RBG marries Martin D. Ginsburg; Ruth knew Marty was the one for her very soon after they’d met and their bond was unbreakable. In Mimi Leder’s On the Basis of Sex, Felicity Jones and Armie Hammer play the young couple in love.
1955: Their daughter, Jane, is born.
1956: Ruth Bader Ginsburg enrols at Harvard Law School. In the opening shot of On the Basis of Sex, a radiant young Ruth is the only woman walking through a sea of indistinguishable men. It’s a beautiful cinematic representation of the statistic that she was; one of only five woman in a class of 500 men.
1957: Marty is diagnosed with cancer for the first time. In the documentary, RBG, those closest to the couple recount how Ruth juggled her own studies, helped Marty with his studies by typing up his assignments and attending his classes, whilst also raising their two small children — she really is superwoman!
1960s: Ruth experiences gender discrimination in the work-place, as she struggles to find a job.
1970s: On the Basis of Sex explores Ruth’s relationship with her teenaged daughter, Jane, whom, for Ruth, became a representative of the cultural revolution taking place. The film showcases the landmark case that began all her trailblazing work to end gender-based discrimination under the law, amending it to meet the changing times.
1993: President Clinton nominates Ruth as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. RBG presents footage of her confirmation hearing, and we see Bader Ginsburg standing her ground in front of the Senate Committee, particularly on women’s rights. She is confirmed as a Supreme Court Justice by a vote of 96-3.
Today: RBG is 85 years old, and is still a sitting Justice of the Supreme Court with no signs of retiring any time soon. The woman behind the icon, as both films explore, expose only how much more of a superhero Ruth Bader Ginsburg really is. It’s no wonder she’s become the cultural icon she is, and what a role model she is for young men and woman alike.
[Words by Kelly Powell]
Mimi Leder’s On the Basis of Sex plays on Curzon screens from Friday 22 February
RGB, the Oscar-nominated documentary about Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s myriad achievements is playing now on Curzon Home Cinema