On Saturday 19th September, I woke up to the news that Ruth Bader Ginsburg had died. I know that when a well-known figure dies there is always an outpouring of grief on social media but everything I read about Ginsburg felt different. This was a woman who had done so much and was such a beacon of hope. The collective sadness of so many, particularly women, was clear and this was a loss that would be felt for a long time to come. Ginsburg leaves behind her an amazing legacy and her fight for gender equality has changed the course of American politics. She was so much more than a feminist icon. In recent years, she became a cultural icon thanks to her nickname Notorious RBG. What else could I do this week but look back on her great career?
RBG calls itself a documentary about the life and career of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the second female Supreme Court of the United States Associate Justice. What it really is, is a 98 minute celebration of a great woman. It doesn’t delve too deeply into her career highlights but it gives you just enough of an insight into the woman and the impact she has had on so many people. It delights in reminding us of some the greatest successes of her career and it has a lot of fun talking about how she fell into the roll of Notorious RBG.
The documentary starts with Ginsburg, well into her 80s, working out at the gym. We see her lifting weights in a Super Diva sweatshirt. These images of Ginsburg still going strong work well alongside the images of her early days as a law student. She is established as a fighter and it is clearly something that she has done throughout her life. From her early days as one of a handful of female law students to her days as a pop culture figure, this is a woman who means a lot to people.
As well as doing the usual documentary stuff of tracking her life and getting insight from various talking heads, RBG pushes the lighter moments. We see Ginsburg watching Kate McKinnon’s hilarious impression from SNL for the first time. It’s a heartwarming attempt to capture the woman behind the robes. Just as the focus on her long and happy marriage with husband Marty. We understand that her work on gender equality is important but this wants to show us that Notorious RBG is a human underneath it all.
The archive footage and sound clips are all fascinating but I would have enjoyed more. The major disappointment with RBG is that it subscribes to the legend wholeheartedly. It takes the meme and runs with it. We all know that she was a fantastic and important figure but we don’t need to sentimentalise it even more. There are times when the documentary makes her feel less human by pushing her vulnerability a bit too far. It feels like it’s holding back just a little.
Yet, this is a lovely and lively film that really does everything to showcase this brilliant woman. She is a incredible figure and this does as well as a 98 minute film could ever do to capture that. The film doesn’t show off too much but, I guess, that’s how RBG would have wanted it. As tributes go, this does everything it needs to.