by Kat Mahoney ‘20
“On the Basis of Sex” is a film created to inspire the nation by telling the story of current Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s breakthrough case when she was a young lawyer in the 1970s. The story, focused on the normality of gender discrimination nationwide, shows how Ginsburg (Felicity Jones) and her husband, Martin, (Armie Hammer), use a groundbreaking tax case to fight for sexual equality.
The film starts with Ginsburg as one of the few females studying to become a lawyer at Harvard Law School. Not only does it show the challenges she faces trying to become a successful lawyer in a time where women were seen as caregivers, but also depicts battling the challenges of motherhood and her husband’s testicular cancer. She balances her education, family, and her husband’s illness so well that she ends up top of her class at Harvard.
The film’s story surrounds the case of Charles Moritz, a Denver resident denied of a caregiver tax deduction because he is male. The Ginsburg duo uses this case to highlight the abundance of gender discrimination in the United States. Just as Ginsburg starts to lose faith in herself, her daughter, Jane (Cailee Spaeny), convinces her to persevere. With the additional progressive mindset seen in her daughter, Ginsburg realizes that by proving her point to the court, the nation might not only be culturally changing but also lawfully. The historic moment when she presents her case to the court is portrayed as rocky at first, but after a few minutes she comes back even stronger with a flawless argument.
“On the Basis of Sex,” written by Ginsburg’s nephew, is centered around her first-hand personal stories. With amazing acting by both Jones and Hammer, the romantic and also intellectual sparks between the two enlightens the audience on the connection between the couple in real-life.
Although the movie focuses on the main point of Ginsburg’s case, it does stretch the truth too far. It changes around major life events causing the audience to believe a false truth about her life. The movie misses main points in her life including her time spent abroad in Sweden and her job as a clerk for district judge Edmond L. Palmieri. It incorrectly depicts the discovery of her husband’s testicular cancer, creates a fake ultimatum given by the ACLU, and portrays Ginsburg’s monumental speech in front of the Circuit Court of Appeals judges as messy and ruined by her nerves.
The ending scene has Jones as Ginsburg walking up the stairs of the Supreme Court before it focuses in on the real Ginsburg as she climbs the same steps grinning into the camera as the result of the tax case and her Supreme Court appointment overlays the screen.