MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
Directed by Betsy West, Julie Cohen. Documentary.
Every so often a really good film is attached to a bland title. Such is the case for RBG, a terrific documentary that tells the story of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 85 years old and still going strong. (She promises to retire when she can no longer perform her duties at an acceptable level.) A better title for the movie (and one suspects that it was the original idea) is The Notorious RBG, a riff based on the 90s rapper The Notorious B.I.G. Fans of Ginsburg created the tribute, which led to T-shirts, posters and memes celebrating her awesome accomplishments.
Make no mistake – Ruth Bader Ginsburg defied the odds against her when she began practicing law. The dean of Harvard Law School actively opposed her advancement (she ended up getting her law degree from Columbia), and Ginsburg had a hard time finding work in New York City, even though she graduated at the top of her class. She became a voice for equal rights for women throughout her long career. This film loves Ginsburg too much to dwell on more than surface insights, but what’s so bad about a movie that makes you feel good?
In our unfortunate era of partisan politics and public discord, perhaps it’s time to revisit Ginsburg’s friendship with Judge Antonin Scalia. The two were often on opposite sides of court cases, but shared mutual respect for one another, along with a healthy sense of humor. RBG makes a strong case for the idea that serving on the highest court in the country is hard work that requires mature and thoughtful discourse.
Another wonderful highlight of this film is its depiction of Ruth’s 56 years of marriage to her husband Marty (he died in 2010). We are treated to many clips of them together and it is clear that this partnership was a foundation on which a career as well as a family could thrive. We hear from her granddaughter (now a law student) about the many lessons learned from her grandmother’s example.
We see Ruth exercising with her trainer and hear about her love of opera. Since she does not watch television, the filmmakers showed her clips of Kate McKinnon’s impression of Judge Ginsburg on Saturday Night Live. She found them quite humorous, even if a bit over the top.
The world could use more outspoken advocates for justice (both in and outside of the court system). Remember that Jesus once encouraged his listeners to “come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison.” (Matthew 5:25) That’s still good advice.
Four halos: An inspiring story about a real-life American icon; a positive depiction of the American justice system.
One pitchfork: Prejudice and the possibilities for injustice are also par for the course.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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