‘RBG’ filmmaker discusses pioneer Supreme Court justice at Concord theater

  • Director/co-producer Julie Cohen speaks to the audience before a special screening of a documentary about U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg titled “RGB” at Red River Theatres in downtown Concord on Thursday. Elizabeth Frantz / Monitor staff

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    University of New Hampshire School of Law professor Leah Plunkett and director/co-producer Julie Cohen participate in a panel discussion following a special screening of the documentary about U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg titled "RGB" at Red River Theatres in downtown Concord on Thursday, May. 24, 2018. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 5/24/2018 10:18:26 PM

Julie Cohen is in awe of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s voice.

How confident Ginsburg sounded when she argued her first of six cases for gender equality in the 1970s in front of an all-male Supreme Court, and how articulate the 84-year-old Supreme Court justice still is today, offering sometimes controversial opinions in an environment largely dominated by men.

“To me, the most moving part is the way she dealt with those kinds of challenges, even when the justices were being condescending to her, how tough she is when she stands up for herself,” said Cohen, director and producer of RBG, a new documentary on Ginsburg that was shown at Red River Theatres on Thursday. “It just kind of makes me want to cry, just hearing it every time.”

Cohen was a part of a panel discussion with University of New Hampshire School of Law Professor Leah Plunket at Red River following a special screening of RBG, which officially premieres Friday.

RBG follows Ginsburg’s career as a pioneer attorney and justice in the field of gender equality, from the time she was one of nine women to attend Harvard Law School in the 1950s in a class of more than 500 men.

Ginsburg was the first woman to be on both the Harvard and Columbia Law Review, but she had trouble finding employment after her graduation from law school because firms were not willing to hire women. She became a professor of law, and eventually founded The Women’s Rights Law Reporter, the first law journal in the U.S. to focus exclusively on women’s rights.

In 1972, Ginsburg co-founded the Women’s Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union and became the organization’s general counsel.

Ginsburg argued cases on voluntary jury duty for women and survivor benefits for male widowers in front of the Supreme Court, and she won five out of six of them.

In 1980, then-President Jimmy Carter appointed her to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit Court. Ginsburg was then appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1993. She was the second female justice after Sandra Day O’Connor to be confirmed to the court.

RBG is a combination of archival footage and modern interviews with Ginsburg, her family, former colleagues and friends.

The film follows her personal life as much as it covers the rise of her career.

There are scenes of Ginsburg in her office in Washington, D.C., studying legal briefs, but there are also scenes of her lifting weights with her personal trainer, attending the opera and looking at photos of her granddaughter at her 2017 Harvard Law School graduation.

One thread throughout the film Cohen said she is particularly fond of is the love story between Ginsburg and her late husband, Martin Ginsburg, who died of cancer in 2010.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg describes Martin as her fiercest advocate, encouraging her to attend law school just over a year after they had their first child, and later leaving his practice as a successful tax attorney in New York to follow her career to D.C.

Ginsburg shared a love for laughter and humor with Martin, which is shown in Cohen’s film in home videos, interviews and television broadcasts.

“We knew she had been happily married for many years, and that people admired Marty Ginsburg very much. But once we started doing interviews, literally every person we talked to, within the first eight minutes, would raise the relationship on their own,” Cohen said.

“He was so important to her,” Cohen said. “She just lights up when she talks about him.”

The theater set up a photo booth with Ginsburg glasses, robes and signs before the show.

Karen Horsch of Manchester was there with her daughter, Emily Harris. The two put on robes and posed for a photo before going into the theater.

“We’re excited to be here,” Horsch said. “She’s a fabulous role model.”


(Leah Willingham can be reached at 369-3322, lwillingham@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @LeahMWillingham.)

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