On the Basis of Sex: a fitting tribute to the Notorious RBG

Kailey Love | Editor-In-Chief


After a year filled with more viral love for Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg than ever before, the “Great Dissenter” made her way to the silver screen (for the second time, following the 2018 documentary RBG) in the biopic film On the Basis of Sex, wide released on Jan. 11.

Nationwide fascination with Ginsburg exploded in 2013 when one of her fiery dissents inspired the creation of her online persona, “Notorious RBG.” Internet memes, merchandise, Saturday Night Live depictions by Kate McKinnon and a documentary film were just a few results of her expanding popularity. On the Basis of Sex is just the latest product of the public’s infatuation with the Supreme Court Justice.

Written by Daniel Stiepleman, Ginsburg’s nephew, the film follows Ginsburg (Felicity Jones) through her early career and her struggle to find work in the legal field in addition to all of the other professional obstacles she had to endure because of her gender, all inspired by the true events from her life. This culminates into the climax of the film — the first case that Ginsburg argued that dealt with gender discrimination, which became the first step in reversing the age old precedent that prevented the existence of gender equality in the law.

On the Basis of Sex opens with the perfect establishing shot to encapsulate the focal point of the film — the fight for gender equality — as a sea of young men walk to their first day of classes at Harvard Law School as the Harvard fight song plays. In the midst of all the men is one woman, our heroine, RBG, who was only one of nine women admitted to Harvard Law out of approximately 500 men that year.

Though the film’s main plot ultimately revolves around the case that jump started Ginsburg’s legendary career, what truly shines through in the movie is the depiction of Ginsburg’s boundless perseverance and ambition. In setting the stage for the case, the audience follows Ginsburg through her struggles with the institutionalized sexism and misogyny that she built her entire career on trying to end.

Another element of the film that captivated audiences was the depiction of the relationship between Ginsburg and her husband, Marty (Armie Hammer). As the nationwide fixation on RBG continued to build, as did the obsession with the Ginsburg’s marriage. The couple was married for 56 years, and were well-known for their equal partnership and deep love for one another, which was exemplified fantastically in the film by Jones and Hammer.

One of my favorite parts of the film came early on, following Marty’s unexpected cancer diagnosis. In his final year of law-school at Harvard and physically unable to attend any of his courses, Ginsburg took his place in class in order to ensure that he would graduate on time, taking notes and typing up essays that he dictated to her. In addition to Marty’s work, Ruth still attended all of her own Harvard law classes, completed her own coursework and cared for her sick husband and their three-year-old daughter, all while still maintaining her status at the top of her class.

Based on the true events from the early years of their marriage, this not only shows the strength of their relationship, but the strength, ambition and pure intellectual prowess of Ginsburg. It is no wonder that she earned the title of Notorious RBG.