A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that RBG is a documentary about the life, career, and enduring legacy of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The film, which was directed, written, edited, shot, and produced by women, follows Ginsburg's journey from her girlhood in Brooklyn to her appointment to the highest court in the land. Along the way, it details how she graduated as one of only nine women in her law class, overcame years of gender discrimination, and argued milestone rights cases before the Supreme Court. Through interviews with Ginsburg, her adult children, colleagues, friends, and even clients, the filmmakers also explore how Ginsburg has become a cultural icon (aka "the Notorious RBG"). Expect a few insults and brief verbal/textual references to topics including rape, abortion, and death in childbirth -- as well as some background smoking -- but overall this is a tween-friendly documentary with messages about integrity and equality.
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What's the story?
RBG chronicles the extraordinary life and career of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, highlighting the esteemed jurist's lifelong fight for gender equality. Made by a group of female filmmakers -- not only directors Julie Cohen and Betsy West, but also the cinematographer, editor, composer, and producers -- this biographical documentary features interviews with Ginsburg, her childhood friends, fellow attorneys and judges, her adult children, President Bill Clinton (who appointed her to the Supreme Court) and other politicians, her granddaughter (who calls her bubbe), and famous friends like Gloria Steinem and Nina Totenberg. The directors also interview several of the key clients Ginsburg represented in her milestone anti-discrimination cases. In addition to chronicling Ginsburg's personal history, the film explores how, in recent years, she has become a cultural and feminist icon (nicknamed "the Notorious RBG"), complete with fan sites, a recurring Saturday Night Live character, merchandise, children's books, and love from young adults around the country.
Is it any good?
This riveting, surprisingly touching documentary reveals how the quiet, intense Ginsburg became one the most iconic Supreme Court justices in American history. Although the movie begins with an audio montage of some of the hateful insults that have been lobbed against the outspoken progressive judge (only the second woman appointed to the High Court), the documentary is an engrossing tribute to the octogenarian justice's legacy. Those familiar with Ginsburg's professional accomplishments will be reminded of the many game-changing gender discrimination cases she undertook while at the ACLU. It's compelling to watch the plaintiffs in cases she either argued or presided over on the Supreme Court discuss their important victories (or, in the case of Lily Ledbetter, her loss) and hear their appreciation of and admiration for the tiny but fierce attorney and judge who supported their causes. Per the 19th-century abolitionist that Ginsburg quotes in the film, it's not that she nor the many women she represented wanted to be thought better than men, they simply wanted men to "remove their boots from our necks."
But RBG isn't limited to a case-by-case analysis of Ginsburg's contributions to gender equality in the public sphere. It's also a moving testimony to her private trials and triumphs. Foremost among them is her 53-year marriage to Marty Ginsburg, a highly successful Manhattan tax attorney who followed Ruth to D.C. when President Jimmy Carter appointed her to the U.S. Circuit Court. The documentary, as fans of the picture book I Dissent will already know, shows how Marty supported and encouraged Ruth -- how he was always the one who cooked and reminded her to eat and sleep. (He was basically the funny, outspoken Ron to her studious, disciplined Hermione.) Ginsburg apparently appreciated humor in her "work husbands" as well, as evidenced by, among other things, her surprisingly close friendship with the late Justice Antonin Scalia. Scalia's son explains how, on paper, the two justices seemed like opposites, but in real life they bonded over their love of opera and travel. Many documentaries about remarkable public figures fail to do them justice, but this is an unforgettable look at how a bookish girl from Brooklyn became the Notorious RBG.
Talk to your kids about ...
Discuss the historical context of gender discrimination. How did Ginsburg contribute to the women's movement through the courtroom?
Ginsburg was confirmed to the Supreme Court 97 to 3 by the Senate. Do you think current politics are more or less polarized than they were in the 1990s?
What can you learn about a successful marriage from the the Ginsburgs? How did they defy stereotypes about couples?
- In theaters: May 4, 2018
- On DVD or streaming: August 28, 2018
- Cast: Ruth Bader Ginsburg
- Directors: Julie Cohen, Betsy West
- Studio: Magnolia Pictures
- Genre: Documentary
- Topics: Great Girl Role Models
- Character strengths: Integrity
- Run time: 107 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: some thematic elements and language
- Awards/Honors: Common Sense Selection
- Last updated: July 16, 2020
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