“RBG” is a meaningful documentary for a number of reasons. Centering on the extraordinary life of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, it tells a larger story concerning the treatment of American women as second-class citizens. This film should be required viewing for all law students.
Justice Ginsburg was nominated for the Supreme Court in 1993 by President Bill Clinton, and she won over the senators during the confirmation process even though she unashamedly endorsed the right of women to seek an abortion. More to the point, she noted a fundamental principle ignored by many politicians, namely that it is a woman’s sole role, not the government’s, to make decisions concerning her own body.
As Justice Ginsburg’s life was examined by directors Betsy West and Julie Cohen, you watch her successfully fight for admission to a Harvard Law School overwhelmingly dominated by male students. Though she goes on to join the Law Review during her second year, she subsequently transfers to Columbia Law School in New York when her lawyer husband joined a firm in that city. She was a woman who didn’t let a minor thing like sleep and raising two children get in the way when it came to pursuing her own career.
Justice Ginsburg set her own destiny when she became involved in cases where women were suffering discrimination at the hands of business and government. This included several successful arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court, one of which resulted in the Court forcing Virginia Military Institute to finally break a barrier and admit women to the historic school.
But what makes “RBG” so much fun to watch is the wonderful revelation of her as an individual. Even though she is now in her early 80s, she continues to pursue a personal policy where she will frequently not go to bed until 5 in the morning to get her work done. She has always had to be coaxed to come home to eat an evening meal, and her children laughingly noted that she remains one of the worst cooks who ever lived.
It was also amusing to discover that her lack of a sense of humor was fully handled by her late husband, Martin. During their 50-year marriage, he fully recognized that his wife’s career became more important than his, and he proceeded to play a supporting role that will gain your admiration.
Various well-known people, including Gloria Steinem, gave interviews focusing on Justice Ginsburg’s devoted efforts to make meaningful changes in the American landscape. Given her lifelong quest to point out the difference between women being placed on a pedestal as opposed to in a cage, it remains revealing to note that she is only one of three women presently on the Supreme Court.
One of Justice Ginsburg’s great strengths flows from her ability to form friendships with justices on the opposite side of many legal opinions. Though she seldom agreed with the late Justice Antonin Scalia in any decided case, they were frequently seen in public settings where they enjoyed each other’s company. That is a lesson that could help our fractured Congress rise from the political ashes.
Though she will not acknowledge it, Justice Ginsburg is obviously proud of the many dissents that she has authored. She continues to fight for the rights of the little men and women in our country, and when this wonderful film concludes, it is hard to resist the urge to stand up and applaud her.
“Pope Francis: A Man of His Word”
“Pope Francis: A Man of His Word” joins “RBG” as documentaries that have profound meaning in this confusing world. As Pope Francis struggles to initiate reforms in the Roman Catholic Church, he battles a religious hierarchy that resists change on nearly any level.
Having grown up as a Catholic in a small Indiana town, I have watched the Catholic Church gradually decay from within. To begin with, many Catholic cardinals and bishops covered up the widespread sexual abuse by a regrettable number of priests, simply transferring them to different parishes to avoid their detection. You simply need to see the Oscar-winning “Spotlight” (2015) play this scandal out on the big screen.
And even though Pope Francis has sought to address this catastrophic horror story, even he stumbled with his recent visit to South America and his unfortunate decision to give cover in the Vatican to Cardinal Bernard Law, who had to flee Boston after his moral lapses were publicly exposed. Fortunately, the pope has apologized for his public misstatements concerning the abuse taking place in Chile, and you strongly get the feeling that he wants to hold guilty members of his church accountable.
It is also worth noting that the church suffers in preventing women from becoming priests and forbidding various Catholic sacraments from being given to those who have the audacity to obtain a divorce. Neither of these unfortunate practices has any moral standing, and it’s time that the aging cardinals of Rome recognize that God’s will encourages change.
With this documentary you see the Pope repeatedly interviewed by director Wim Wenders as he addresses various issues confronting Rome. I hope Catholics who support President Trump pay close attention to the Pope’s embrace of climate change as a man-made problem while forcibly arguing that immigrants have a meaningful place in today’s world.
This film follows Pope Francis as he visits imprisoned inmates in Philadelphia and migrants shamelessly detained and treated on the Greek island of Lesbos. In both cases he had the temerity to wash and kiss the feet of individuals rudely dismissed as worthless by powerful political figures.
Though the film loses a bit of its force when director Wenders attempts to recreate a portion of the life of St. Francis, it is a minor distraction. More importantly, you see Pope Francis embracing poverty as a virtue.
Equally important, Pope Francis unapologetically dismisses mankind’s dedication to accumulating wealth as a problem that needs to be addressed. Less than 20 percent of the world’s population possesses more than 80 percent of its wealth, and this has led to a large number of people starving in a world where the production of food is so mammoth that no child should go to bed hungry.
Regardless of your religious preference, you need to pay attention to this interesting pontiff. The first Jesuit and American to be elevated to the head of the Roman Catholic Church, you get the feeling that if there is a God, he or she is whispering into this noble human being’s ear.•
Robert Hammerle practices criminal law in Indianapolis. When he is not in the courtroom or the office, Bob can likely be found at one of his favorite movie theaters watching and preparing to review the latest films. To read more of his reviews, visit www.bigmouthbobs.com. The opinions expressed are those of the author.