- Share this article on Facebook
- Share this article on Twitter
- Share this article on Email
- Show additional share options
- Share this article on Print
- Share this article on Comment
- Share this article on Whatsapp
- Share this article on Linkedin
- Share this article on Reddit
- Share this article on Pinit
- Share this article on Tumblr
At a special New York screening at Metrograph on April 30, filmmakers Julie Cohen and Betsy West spoke about their latest documentary, RBG, which chronicles the life of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg — including her famously grueling workout routine.
“We got up the nerve — I barely could choke the words out. I just said, ‘And would it be possible for us to film in your gym during your workout?’” West recalled, speaking to a room that included Oscar nominees David France and Nina Rosenblum, Emmy winner Larry Wilmore, actress Molly Ringwald, activist Aryeh Neier, journalist Stone Phillips, and Ginsburg’s own granddaughter, Clara Spera. At that point, West and Cohen had yet to have their anticipated one-on-one interview with the justice, but they had spent months slowly gaining her trust and interviewing friends, family and colleagues for their film.
“I was so scared, ” West revealed. “And then there was a pause, as there often is when you ask Justice Ginsburg a question, and then she said, ‘Yes. I think that would be possible.’ ”
The cherry on top of this behind-the-curtain workout came when Ginsburg marked the occasion by wearing a navy blue sweatshirt with the words “Super Diva!” stamped in white across its front. “She is a very sober, serious person,” West told The Hollywood Reporter after last night’s screening and Q&A. “On the other hand, she has a very sly sense of humor, and she loves to laugh.”
Cohen assured that the sweater, which cheekily echoes the hundreds of millennial-made memes celebrating the “Notorious RBG” with slogans like “You Can’t Spell Truth Without Ruth,” was not part of a pre-planned wardrobe.
“When she walked in the gym, we were like, ‘Oh, my god! Look at that shirt!’” Cohen told THR, explaining that it was a gift from the Washington National Opera after her 2016 cameo as the Duchess of Krakenthorp in The Daughter of the Regiment. “As she said in the film, her dream was to be a real opera diva, and she doesn’t have the musical talent to do that. So, you know, she gets to be a diva in her own way.”
While it is viral-ready moments like the “Diva!” sweater that builds on Ginsburg’s internet-age appeal, the filmmakers also explained that their hope with RGB is to show Ginsburg as the fully fleshed, history-making woman she is and always has been.
“We like to think that we’re kind of adding substance,” Cohen told the audience. “The internet is all about imagery and some of the imagery with RBG, as you saw in the film, is pretty hilarious and pretty cool, but there’s really no substitute to understanding in-depth what the sweep of someone’s life is, and that’s what film can do in a way that internet memes can’t.”
Later speaking with THR, West added that RGB served as “a window into an opportunity to tell a much bigger story about her history as a women’s-rights litigator and the kind of challenges that she faced throughout her life and how she approached those challenges.”
It’s also not lost on Cohen and West that RGB is premiering at quite the opportune time. While it is by sheer coincidence that Hollywood and American society at large is coming to grips with gender inequality (the main principal that’s led Ginsburg’s historic career in the courtroom), West believes that learning more about their subject’s life can be a roadmap for how contemporary activists can incite change in a society in desperate need of it.
“I think this film provides a context to #MeToo and Time’s Up and really explains how bad it has been for women and a woman like Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who saw gross injustices and figured out a way to tackle them and to overcome,” West concluded. “I think that’s a pretty good message for today.”
Sign up for THR news straight to your inbox every day