“With big folks, either people think you look mean or it’s more of a jolly Santa Claus, ‘Oh, he’s just a pudgy little teddy bear pillow.’” —The Notorious B.I.G.
At first glance, The Notorious R.B.G. (Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg) does not match the image of the powerhouse dissenter that sent left-wing social media into a worshipping frenzy. The 5’1” judge skips the small talk and demands the attention and respect of everyone in the courtroom, using bulletproof arguments and her quiet, steady demeanor to redefine women’s legal rights in the United States. The documentary “RBG” gives insight into the career and personal tribulations of the second woman to serve on the highest court in America from her immigrant upbringing to her struggles in a male-dominated profession.
In order to convey how moving “RBG” is for female viewers, I must return to Nov. 9, 2016. Where was I? At a sleepy New Hampshire boarding school (read as: uber liberal) on a day when the handful of outspoken Republicans celebrated, as is their right, while the rest of campus dressed like mourners at a funeral, huddling in crying groups. The tension was palpable.
When Hillary Clinton made her concession speech later that afternoon, I watched in the dining hall with a collection of female students, teachers and staff, most of whom I didn’t know well. I had canvassed and phone-banked for Hillary and attended rallies for two years. With the previous Republican candidates, while I disagreed with their policy, I could have accepted the vote, but Donald Trump was a big ‘F U’ to the rights and voices of women.
As a shocked Hillary told an equally shocked audience, “To all the little girls who are watching this, never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams,” I looked to the right at my track coach. Here was a woman who made it to the Olympics only to be kicked out over a false-positive on a drug test and, as she told me, this was the most disenfranchised and cheated she had ever felt. I looked to the left at Ruth, a server close to retirement who may never see a woman President. All these strong women, sitting in silence and crying because the 58th presidential election proved we as a country have made little progress towards gender equality.
I mention Nov. 9 not just to make clear my political biases, but to explain why “RBG” comes as a breath of fresh air in a cynical time. As the treatment of women in all industries comes into the limelight, it is easy to become discouraged about the future and disillusioned with the past. But while I watched “RBG” on Mother’s Day of all days, I felt how I imagined it would be when the anchors of CNN announced our first female president: pride, joy, liberation, hope.
Although “RBG” definitely targets a liberal audience — the packed theater audibly cooed at the appearance of former President Barack Obama and hissed at an image of current President Trump — it still offers voices from the opposing side. Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, a Republican who served as Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and approved Ginsburg’s nomination, weighs in on RBG’s rare moment of unprofessionalism when she publicly expressed distaste for Trump. Furthermore, the documentary displays RBG’s unexpected friendship with former Justice Antonin Scalia, a very conservative voice on the bench. Their respectful banter and trips to the opera house represent a relationship that does not exist in today’s partisan environment.
“RBG” finally gives Ruth Bader Ginsburg the recognition she deserves, tracing her rise to a pop-culture feminist icon. The documentary simultaneously humanizes and turns Ginsburg into a superhero. Her tender relationship with deceased husband Martin offers a raw look at loss and the interviews with her granddaughter paint RBG as your common grandmother. However, the recordings of her court cases and montages of intense workout routines — in a sweatshirt that reads “Super Diva!” and to the beat of Dessa’s “The Bullpen” — return her to near-cult status of legendary. “RBG” leaves you with feel-good laughs, feminist pride and a prayer to bless this woman with many more years.
“I ask no favor for my sex. All I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet of our necks.’” — RBG, quoting Sarah Grimke