Ruth Bader Ginsburg wins argument without yelling

Film | by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

RPL Film Theatre

August 10–12

It’s a testament to Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s brilliant legal mind that her tenure in the United States’ Supreme Court is only the second or third most remarkable thing about her. The iconic liberal judge, author of eagerly awaited dissenting opinions, remains at 85 a work horse and one of the very few figures standing between conservatives and rolling the law back to the stone age.

The documentary RGB is impeccably crafted and the justice’s life has enough fireworks to compensate for any shortcomings. The first member of her family to go to college, Ruth Bader Ginsburg was one of the first women to attend Harvard School of Law, while taking care of a newborn and nursing her husband as he endured cancer treatment. She makes us all underachievers.

Ginsburg made her bones working for the American Civil Liberties Union. Her focus was gender discrimination and, one case at the time, Ginsburg demolished statutes that openly or implicitly treated women as second-class citizens. Her work advancing equality punched her ticket to the Supreme Court in 1993 (she was nominated by Bill Clinton).

The documentary shows how behind a frail appearance there’s a steely woman fully aware of her iconic status and how needed she is (her move to the left is depicted as a direct reaction to an increasingly conservative SCOTUS). Her voice gains in volume whenever the conversation turns towards the law. Equally enjoyable snippets involve her supportive late husband (a feminist before the word was coined), her love for the opera and her unlikely friendship with toxically conservative judge Antonin Scalia.

The only depressing part of this doc? The fact a complete rube like Donald Trump currently has more power to shape American law than RBG. Then again, Justice Ginsburg shines when the deck is stacked against her.