An AWFJ Tribute to Ruth Bader Ginsburg

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Not all cinema superheroines wear capes. In fact, one leader in the league of heroic women whose accomplishments are celebrated in cinema was the wearer of black robes and white lace collars, and she has been as much of a superheroine in real life as she has been on the screen. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died on September 18 at age 87, championed women’s rights for her entire career and leaves a legacy of progressive positive change in the United States. Her ethos and accomplishments were celebrated in two recent films, RBG, the documentary by Julie Cohen and Betsy West, and Mimi Leder’s On the Basis of Sex, a narrative feature starring Felicity Jones as Justice Ginsburg. Both films were released in 2018, both were selected as AWFJ’s Movie of the Week at that time. Both effectively serve to raise awareness about Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s extraordinary character, career and accomplishments.

Real Ruth
Reel Ruth
The AWFJ also recognized Justice Ginsburg as one of 50 iconic REAL REEL WOMEN, a list honoring feminist leaders whose real life stories have been illuminated in dramatic features. On The Basis of Sex dramatizes Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s struggle for recognition at Harvard Law School and her emergence as a leading ACLU attorney dedicated to the cause of equal rights for women. Her life was replete with many other stories that would make great films.

In her Ruth Bader Ginsburg capsule bio and overview for the REAL REEL WOMEN list, AWFJ member Sandie Angulo Chen wrote: “Ruth Bader Ginsburg has gone from respected to revered. She may not have been the first woman to sit on the highest court, but she has definitely had the most impact on public consciousness. In Betsy West and Julie Cohen’s documentary RBG (2018), Justice Ginsburg is presented as something of a superhero, a living feminist legend complete with her own action figure. One of only nine women to enter her Harvard Law School class, the studious and determined Mrs. Ginsburg not only juggled her home life and course load, complete with sexist professors, but she also took care of her devoted husband, Marty, as he endured a bout with testicular cancer, and nurtured their baby. Before her career as a judge, she was a law professor and a pioneering gender-equity attorney responsible for arguing some of the most seminal gender-related cases in modern legal history. In Mimi Leder’s On the Basis of Sex (2018), British actress Felicity Jones plays Ginsburg from her first day at Harvard, through her inability to find work in a law firm despite her a stellar academic record, through her first years as a law professor at Rutgers. The film climaxes when she argues Moritz v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, movingly and successfully showing that discrimination on the basis of sex hurts both men and women.”

In real life, Justice Ginsburg founded the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project in 1972 and led the ACLU in critical legal battles for almost a decade after, including the cases that established the foundation for the current legal prohibitions against sex discrimination in this country and helped lay the groundwork for future women’s rights advocates. She mentored young women attorneys at Rutgers Law School. She was a determined advocate for the Equal Rights Amendment, pushing for ratification in 2020. For a detailed righteous account of Justice Ginsburg’s impact on civil rights and the quest for justice read the ACLU’s In Memory of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (1933-2020).

RIP Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. May your sense of justice and progressive influence prevail! — Jennifer Merin

EDITOR’S NOTE: In addition to articles mentioned above, you may also be interested in reading:

RBG – Review by Diane Carson
RBG – Review by Cate Marquis
RBG – Review by MaryAnn Johanson
Talking RBG with Katie, age 8 — Interview by Betsy Bozdech
Julie Cohen and Betsy West Talk RBG — Interview by Nell Minow

ON THE BASIS OF SEX – Review by Susan Wloszczyna
ON THE BASIS OF SEX – Review by Kristin Page-Kirby
ON THE BASIS OF SEX – Review by Martha K Baker
ON THE BASIS OF SEX – Review by Lois Alter Mark
ON THE BASIS OF SEX – Review by MaryAnn Johanson
ON THE BASIS OF SEX – Review by Cate Marquis

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Jennifer Merin

Jennifer Merin is the Film Critic for Womens eNews and contributes the CINEMA CITIZEN blog for and is managing editor for Women on Film, the online magazine of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, of which she is President. She has served as a regular critic and film-related interviewer for The New York Press and She has written about entertainment for USA Today, The L.A. Times, US Magazine, Ms. Magazine, Endless Vacation Magazine, Daily News, New York Post, SoHo News and other publications. After receiving her MFA from Tisch School of the Arts (Grad Acting), Jennifer performed at the O'Neill Theater Center's Playwrights Conference, Long Wharf Theater, American Place Theatre and LaMamma, where she worked with renown Japanese director, Shuji Terayama. She subsequently joined Terayama's theater company in Tokyo, where she also acted in films. Her journalism career began when she was asked to write about Terayama for The Drama Review. She became a regular contributor to the Christian Science Monitor after writing an article about Marketta Kimbrell's Theater For The Forgotten, with which she was performing at the time. She was an O'Neill Theater Center National Critics' Institute Fellow, and then became the institute's Coordinator. While teaching at the Universities of Wisconsin and Rhode Island, she wrote "A Directory of Festivals of Theater, Dance and Folklore Around the World," published by the International Theater Institute. Denmark's Odin Teatret's director, Eugenio Barba, wrote his manifesto in the form of a letter to "Dear Jennifer Merin," which has been published around the world, in languages as diverse as Farsi and Romanian. Jennifer's culturally-oriented travel column began in the LA Times in 1984, then moved to The Associated Press, LA Times Syndicate, Tribune Media, Creators Syndicate and (currently) Arcamax Publishing. She's been news writer/editor for ABC Radio Networks, on-air reporter for NBC, CBS Radio and, currently, for Westwood One's America In the Morning. She is a member of the Critics Choice Association in the Film, Documentary and TV branches and a voting member of the Black Reel Awards. For her AWFJ archive, type "Jennifer Merin" in the Search Box (upper right corner of screen).