Review: Remembering Justice Ginsburg: ‘On the Basis of Sex’ celebrates her legacy

Felicity Jones plays Ruth Bader Ginsburg in"On the Basis of Sex" (2018). Left photo | AP Photo. Right photo | Photo courtesy of IMDb.

By Camille Rasor | Arts & Life Editor

It’s rare in this day and age that we lose public servants who have made this country unequivocally better. This year we’ve lost two in the deaths of Representative John Lewis and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

For Americans passionate about making this a truly equal country, the death of the iconic Justice Ginsburg comes as a heartbreaking loss.

As we mourn Justice Ginsburg this week, let us remember her legacy and the ways in which she pulled this country forward. Let us sit with the stories that she left behind, and let us truly understand what a loss it is to this country that such a stalwart woman no longer sits on the Supreme Court bench.

The library of movies, documentaries and books on Ginsburg’s life is stocked with great options, but let me personally recommend “On the Basis of Sex,” a 2018 film which takes a look at Ginsburg’s personal life and early career.

The screenplay was written by Ginsburg’s nephew, Daniel Stiepleman, and was edited multiple times by the Justice herself. In her later years, Ginsburg became a pop-culture icon for feminists and social justice advocates, making her somewhat of a legend, but the film helps strip back that image of an untouchable public figure to make her seem more real.

At a screening in 2018, Ginsberg called the film, “part fact, part imaginative . . . But the imaginative parts fit in with the story so well.”

From beginning to end, the film paints the picture of a person we should all aspire to be. It shows someone who is unfailingly kind and a woman whose moral compass guided her every move. As a young wife, Ginsburg (played by Felicity Jones) attended both her and her husband’s classes in law school when he fell ill with testicular cancer which left him bedridden for a while.

In fact, the film includes a scene of Ginsburg transcribing as her husband speaks aloud an essay for a class assignment that he cannot write himself because he is too ill as their nursery-aged daughter cries from a room over. This scene leaves the audience awestruck by the Justice’s work ethic in balancing law school, young motherhood and the illness of her spouse with such grace.

As a mother, Ginsburg teaches her daughter what it means to be a strong woman through heated conversations over essays and social justice, and she allows herself to be taught by her daughter in return. As a lawyer and professor, the young Ginsburg continually fights for what she knows to be right even when she faces staunch resistance from those with more experience.

The film shows over and over how Ginsburg faced gender discrimination in pursuit of her law degree, in search of a job at a law firm and in being taken seriously in professional spaces. In spite of all of this, Ginsburg (in real life and on the screen) never compromised her femininity in hopes that her male colleagues might take her more seriously. In carrying herself with such unapologetic feminine energy, her mere presence makes the statement that she so famously did later, that “women belong in all places where decisions are being made.”

Above all, the film does a great job of making this giant of American democracy feel real. It inspires audiences that the change she caused in our country came from her passion, tenacity and the support of her loved ones, and that with the same grit and conviction, they might be able to make those changes too.

The words won’t ever feel enough to mourn the life of a woman who has made my life infinitely more free. Because of Justice Ginsburg, women can own a bank account without a man’s co-signature. We cannot be turned down for employment because of our gender. We can independently sign a mortgage. We can maintain employment regardless of if we are pregnant or have kids.

In the days since I watched this film, I’ve discussed the life and legacy of Justice Ginsburg with my mom and so many of my female friends. Each and every one of us have at least one moment (often times several memorable moments) when we were made to feel small and incapable in our personal, professional or academic lives.

Those countless experiences make clear that the work so many women and men began centuries ago (the same work carried by Justice Ginsburg throughout her life) remains unfinished. In the wake of Ginsburg’s life, let us pick up the torch and forge a path toward a country that more accurately reflects our ideals of equality and justice for all.

May Justice Ginsburg’s memory be for a blessing. May it also be for a revolution.