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'RBG' documentary filmmakers reflect on Ruth Bader Ginsburg's extraordinary life

By Makeda Easter, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

The death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Friday came as a complete shock to Julie Cohen and Betsy West, the filmmakers who spent years making the 2018 movie "RBG."

The Oscar-nominated documentary chronicles the feminist icon's life. It tracks her upbringing in Brooklyn, New York, and loving marriage to her late husband, Martin Ginsburg, her years leading the legal fight against sex discrimination in the 1970s, rise to the Supreme Court, and her ascent into a pop culture phenomenon.

Although, Ginsburg's health had been precarious over the years, "I'm sadder than I thought I would be," Cohen said.

"She's a woman who had so much power and presence that being around her for the time that we were to make the movie was just an incredible experience."

When Cohen and West first approached Ginsburg in early 2015 about making a documentary, the justice was hesitant. "Her first answer was basically, 'Not yet,'" Cohen said. The filmmakers kept in touch and a few months later, they got her approval.

"I think the reason that she did (agree to do it) was wanting, not just legal eagles, but regular, ordinary people to understand what can be accomplished by fighting the good fight for constitutional law," Cohen said. "She knew what she had done in her career would be a lesson for others pursuing those four big words on the front of the Supreme Court, 'equal justice under law.'"

 

For a couple of years, the filmmakers trailed Ginsburg around the country as she gave talks at law schools and other venues. They interviewed her family, close friends and former colleagues.

"We got to see her a little bit from afar and to see the generosity with which she engages people about her views on our democracy and our constitution," West said, "the effort that she makes to connect with citizens."

They captured the "astonishing" moments - such as Ginsburg's intense fitness regimen, which she began after her first bout with pancreatic cancer.

"We got in there and witnessed the seriousness with which she approached keeping herself in shape - doing push-ups, and the planks, the medicine ball - I mean it was astonishing and inspiring as an older woman," West said.

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