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Tuesday 18 December 2018

RBG, Documentary Film, USA (2018), written and directed by Julie Cohen and Betsy West, 9* out of 10

RBG, the documentary, has been an unexpected box-office hit among young people in America and it deserves a wide audience beyond.  The portrait and life story of a highly intelligent woman fighting with her outstanding talent and well thought out strategy for a worthy cause: women’s rights. Don't miss getting to know Justice Ginsburg of the Supreme Court of the United States of America.

Imagine God looking down on the United States of America that has given rise to Donald Trump and everything that implies – and she is not best pleased. If you were to advise, who would you pick to help people reinterpret their foundational texts and lay down the law? 

Well, how about a 155cm tall fragile yet austere looking Jewish lady in her eighties whom her grandchildren affectionately call by the Yiddish “boobbah” (grandma)? Yes, God has a sense of humour as well as a penchant for being effective. RBG are the initials of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States of America appointed to this position by President Bill Clinton in 1993, only the second female justice of four ever to be confirmed to the court. 

And RBG is the title of a hagiographic documentary on the life and times of Ruth Bader-Ginsburg. At 85 years of age, the woman referred to as “this witch, this evildoer, this monster” and as a “liberal super-hero” prepares herself for a work-day like Rocky Balboa prepared himself for his bout with Apollo Creed in Rocky 1.

RBG tells the story of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s life from its beginnings to the present day based on extensive interviews with the lady herself and admiring fans and adversaries and audio archive footage of her appearances as a lawyer arguing cases in front of the then Supreme Court to claim for several women (and a man) the equal protection of their rights under the law that the US Constitution supposedly grants to everyone. In one of her court appearances, she memorably quotes the 19th century abolitionist Sarah Moore Grimk√©: “I ask no favour for my sex. All I ask of my brethren is that they take their feet off our necks”.

What emerges is the portrait of a highly intelligent woman fighting for women’s rights with great talent and a brilliant feel for strategy. In a quiet, unassuming way, she exudes seriousness, intelligence and the ability to listen and convince with a quiet voice and powerful arguments. She strikes up unlikely, yet genuine, deep friendships on her way, such as the one with ultra-conservative Justice John Scalia, a colleague and determined adversary on the court. Being moderate in tone and clear in argument at the beginning of her career on the Supreme Court, the film shows how she has become ever more outspoken. Remaining highly respected by her colleagues she writes trenchantly argued dissenting minority opinions as recent Republican Presidents' appointments to the court have changed its balance towards the conservative right. 

Most recently, she has ever less reluctantly become an unlikely pop icon of the young generation of social media savvy women who celebrate her in Tumbler blogs like “The Notorious RBG”, a reference to Brooklyn rap artist The Notorious BIG, and a regularly parodied character on the widely-watched Saturday Night Live television comedy show.

RBG shows all this while making no secret of the admiration and affection the film-makers have for their subject. But then Ruth Bader Ginsburg is clearly a highly intelligent woman with an outstanding talent for the law and an enormous amount of civil courage, who has made a deep and important impact for the good of society in the USA.

RBG, the documentary, has been an unexpected box-office hit among young people in America and it deserves a wide audience beyond. There is nothing much special about this documentary other than its content and its subject, and these make for a highly interesting and surprisingly moving experience. Don’t miss it!

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