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This is what Ruth Bader Ginsburg says her biopic got wrong about her life

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India Rose Kushner
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Set to release later this year, On The Basis Of Sex takes a look at Ginsburg’s lifetime battle against gender discrimination.     

Known for her large framed glasses and signature lace collar, the second-oldest supreme court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is truly notorious. 

Of late, she has become known simply as RBG. But Ginsburg is much more than her look. Only the second woman to ever be elected the Supreme Court, she’s characterized by a life spent defending gender equality.

Since being appointed to the Supreme Court, she’s become a feminist icon. But in recent years, she’s also become a pop culture icon with books like Notorious RBG and most recently this year, the documentary RBG. It only seems natural that the biopic On the Basis of Sex featuring her life story would finally be made. Screenwriter (and Ginsburg’s nephew) Daniel Stiepleman adapted the script and decided to frame the story around her early career, in particular, the only case which Ginsburg argued together with her husband Martin Ginsburg in 1972 known as Charles E. Moritz v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue. 

On the Basis of Sex begins with her time at Harvard Law School, where she was one of just nine women in a class of 500. Ginsburg, played by Felicity Jones, fought to be respected by her classmates and superiors all while raising her three-year-old and helping care for her husband through his cancer diagnosis.

At a recent screening of the film, there was no shortage of A-list celebrity guests including Hillary Clinton, Gloria Steinem, and Ginsburg herself. Though she loved the film, Ginsburg said that it didn’t get everything quite right. 

In a scene where she presents an oral argument before a panel of federal judges, she stumbles - a moment the Supreme Court justice says never happened. Stiepleman’s justification for the scene was that he wanted the film to feature a bigger character arc and have Jones portray some vulnerability. 

In real life, he’s all too aware that his aunt is nothing but a tower of strength, noting “I’m reasonably certain that RBG was born a fully formed human being out of the head of Zeus.” Considering that just this year, Ginsburg returned to work soon after falling and breaking three ribs, we would have to agree. 

Ginsburg also said that when she first met Armie Hammer, who portrays her husband, he was a lot taller than Marty - to which Hammer replied that he thought Ginsburg was a lot shorter than Felicity Jones.

While On the Basis of Sex focuses on Ginsburg’s career, it also dives into her relationship with her husband. From supporting her career to willingly taking on all the cooking, Marty was truly a progressive partner for the time. The movie’s opening scene features a short but tasteful sex scene between the two, a potentially cringey-moment, considering Ginsburg’s children had accompanied her to the premiere. However, Ginsburg seemed to think the exact opposite. In fact, she said, “I think they probably would agree with me that their daddy would have loved it.”

Ginsburg faced plenty more gender-based discrimination after graduating law school, like so many other women during the 1960s. Not a single person was willing to hire a female lawyer. Finally, when a favorite professor refused to recommend any other graduates to U.S. District Judge Edmund L. Palmieri unless he hired Ginsburg, she managed to score a job. Despite this foot in the door, Ginsburg still had to contend with lower wages than her male co-workers. 

She later went on to lead the A.C.L.U.’s Women’s Rights Project, leading the fight for gender discrimination and presenting several landmark cases before the Supreme Court. These cases helped prove that sex discrimination did exist and that it violated the Constitution. In one scene during the movie, Ginsburg appears before a panel of male judges. One of the judges states, “The word ‘woman’ does not appear once in the Constitution.” To which Ginsburg responds: “Nor does the word ‘freedom’, Your Honor.”

Though women have taken large leaps towards equality in the workplace, On the Basis of Sex reminds us of the barriers and battles that woman still fight, thanks to gender discrimination. At 85-years-old, Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a trailblazing figure who has inspired many women. Hopefully, this film will, too. 

On The Basis of Sex is released in the US on 25 December and in the UK on 4 January, 2019. 

Images: Getty

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