Alan Charlton

Disagree with RBG’s politics, but enjoy the film

Voices June 5, 2018

Justice Ginsburg and Jimmy Carter shaking hands in 1980 in a scene from RBG. Always liberal in her views, Ginsburg has found herself more and more at odds with her fellows on the Supreme Court, writes Alan Charlton. (Magnolia Pictures photo)

Whether the realities of power structures today are better or worse than in previous times is a matter of debate. What is certainly true is that the perception of many is that democracy is endangered by the belief that the powerful are untrustworthy. It is good then that a movie in current release presents a compelling portrait of a person who is a person of integrity, true to her principals and yet one of the most influential people in her country.

RGB is a documentary about Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the American Supreme Court Judge. Detailing key moments in her life, it shows the brilliant young woman attending Cornell and Harvard law schools at a time when being a lawyer was simply not regarded as a proper career for women.

For example, she was only one of nine women in the Harvard Law School in a class of over 350. The film shows how her brilliance, commitment, and integrity enabled her to fulfill her ambition to work for the rights of all who were being treated unjustly: not only women, but men, people of colour, and all who were being denied the equality granted them by the Constitution.

It also shows her enjoying a wonderful marriage which lasted over 50 years, always pursuing her career with the unqualified support of her husband. Above all, it shows her successfully arguing cases before the Supreme Court and, eventually being appointed by President Bill Clinton to that court, only the second woman in history to achieve that distinction.

It’s a fascinating account of a woman who quietly and earnestly responded to her calling, on the way gaining the respect and support of a multitude of people – even those who opposed her opinions, both legal and political. That she was able to do this while remaining a person of integrity and honour is all the more remarkable, though just to prove she is a human being she did succumb to the temptation publicly to express her views regarding Donald Trump during the 2016 election – a misstep for which she has apologized.

Always liberal in her views, she has found herself more and more at odds with her fellows on the Supreme Court, frequently writing a dissenting opinion regarding the court’s decisions, an action which has earned for her the title “The Notorious RBG.” It is relevant to note that one of the most conservative members of the court, Justice Antonin Scalia, became one of her closest friends, largely because he recognized her as a person of integrity, even though he disagreed with her views.

For example,  Ginsburg was instrumental in the process of legalizing abortion in the U.S. This is clearly one area in which Catholics and many others would argue that she was gravely in error. However, while she may be wrong, no one can doubt her sincerity or willingness to stand by her convictions. We may fundamentally disagree with her position, but we can still respect the fact that she is conscientiously upholding her belief. It remains for those who see abortion as being a sin against life to fight as fiercely and unwaveringly for the truth as she does for what she believes.

The film does more than describe the professional career of a successful woman; it also shows her as a person honoured by many, a loving wife, mother, and grandmother. It shows her making numerous public appearances at which she is accorded standing ovations and enthusiastic applause. Ruth Ginsburg is indeed a woman who offers, even in her mid-eighties, a sterling example of how to act as a person of power, even if, in some areas we may disagree with her views.

It is good that such a person is the subject of a documentary in commercial release. It shows that it is possible to achieve a position of power and to act in accordance with the ideals of that position. As the movie screens are preponderantly occupied with depictions of super-heroes, both male and female, it is good to be reminded that one does not have to have super powers to do that which is right. One simply has to remain true to the ideals that peoples of many countries hold, but which too often are betrayed by the very people who should epitomize them.

Sadly, RBG will probably not attract a large audience, despite the fact that it is interesting, entertaining, often humourous, and always challenging. It is a film which does deserve a wider audience – even if it has to wait until it is released on Netflix or some other site. It presents a positive portrait of a woman of honour – and we could all use such a reminder of what is possible in today’s power structures. RBG is a film well worth seeing – something which cannot be said of many films currently in the movie houses.