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The documentary reconstructs Ruth Bader Ginsberg‘s aka “The Notorious RBG‘s“ path to the Supreme Court and becoming a role model with medial flashbacks and interviews.


Ruth Bader Ginsberg is now 85 years old, still serving as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, and first seen working out while wearing a sweater that reads “Super Diva”. Just how the gay community anoints their icons is not an exact science. The preferred diva (which is a reclamation of the word from its negative connotations) is generally an entertainer, with the choice betraying the age of the admirer, from Bette Davis, to Judy Garland, to Barbra Streisand, to Cher, to Madonna, to Lady Gaga, to whichever tween is about to launch her career via heartfelt guitar strumming on Youtube. Just why the gay community coronates these independent, powerful women can be attributed to championing someone who subverts the dominant patriarchal discourse, which is something someone told me at university I thought up myself. These champions are almost exclusively taken from the entertainment industry, and rarely from the political spectrum. She might lack the danceable tunes, but Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a glaring omission from this diva-hood.

Her life and work (and the impact of both) have been committed to film in this documentary from directors Betsy West and Julie Cohen, and RBG herself is immediately presented as a dissenter against that dominant patriarchal discourse. Her feminist credentials and views are established promptly in the opening moments of the film, and then are subsequently referred to throughout the piece. A lot. Documentaries with a political grounding differ from narrative feature films in that you’re likely to watch them as a confirmation of what you already believe, rather than giving the piece an opportunity to compel you to a disparate point of view from the one you already have. And it’s unlikely that anyone who watches this film will think that gender equality is anything other than a jolly good idea.

RBG’s struggles in a male-centric world aren’t exactly revelatory. RBG having to strive to justify her existence as a law student in the 1950s is entirely expected. The film perhaps dwells upon this more than is useful. The point is hammered home, courtesy of recollections from RBG herself and friends and fellow students. More telling are the vignettes which slip out from time to time, such as the Dean of her law school cheerfully asking the miniscule number of female students exactly how they can justify taking the place of a man who wants to be a lawyer.

The present day footage of RBG shows a fiercely intelligent woman with a twinkle in her eye, one who speaks with a candour and matter-of-factness that is never brisk. This is complemented by the archival footage of her first senate confirmation in 1980, which shows her as a calm and conversational orator, albeit one who produces the rhetoric expected in such a setting. The calmness with which RBG imparted herself upon and excelled within the system is perhaps the takeaway of the film for foreign audiences, as she is undoubtedly a compelling figure.

Just how foreign audiences will take to the film will be a curiosity. RBG is far more of a US-centric figure than one with a decidedly international profile. This engaging documentary manages a lightness of touch in detailing the story of a woman of such substance. Her unwillingness to accept conventions is a warming reminder that conformity isn’t required to flourish in an existing construct. At one point, RBG recalls the advice of her mother on how to be a lady, as in to not be overwhelmed by negative emotion, and to be independent. Mission composedly accomplished. As her sweater suggests, RBG is a super diva.

Oliver Johnston


USA 2018, 98 min
Language: English
Genre: Semi-documentary Film, Porträt
Director: Julie Cohen, Betsy West
Author: Betsy West, Julie Cohen
DOP: Claudia Raschke
Montage: Carla Gutierrez
Music: Miriam Cutler
Distributor: Koch Films
Release: 13.12.2018

Rotten Tomatoes



  • OV Original version
  • OmU Original with German subtitles
  • OmeU Original with English subtitles
English/with English subtitles
All languages

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