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Film Reviews
On The Basis Of Sex
| Sunday, 01.20.2019, 07:05 AM |   (388 views)

A tide of white men in identical black suits and spit-shined shoes ascend the stairs towards a reception hosted by other white men in black suits; their sole differentiating factor may be on which side they part their hair. This is what it is like to be “a Harvard-man” in 1956. Except this year, as in the 6 previous years, a handful of women are also scattered among these suited and seated males. In 1956, there are 9 extremely qualified women among this group of lawyers-in-training. And one of these women is the dedicated and brilliant Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Exactly how deserving and qualified is revealed to us throughout “On The Basis Of Sex”, the new film directed by Mimi Leder.

Mrs. Ginsberg knows she's qualified to attend Harvard Law. Through hard work, determination and brainpower, she's more than earned her spot. Yet in 1956, and I hazard a guess that it's still fairly common present-day within those and similar hallowed halls, Mrs. Ginsburg, and all women, must continually prove to all who inquire why each deserve to be there.

In fact, it is within an early scene - a dinner hosted by Harvard's Dean, Erwin Griswold – where the blatant, everyday accepted sexism of the 1950's is brought to light. At the dinner table, each female student, including Mrs. Ginsburg, is quizzed by Dean Griswold as to what she's doing at the school and why she believes she has the right to take the spot that should have 'rightfully' gone to a man. Yes, those are his words.  

Felicity Jones in On the Basis of Sex (2018)

At that statement, you could hear the hisses in the audience. 

Basis” is the second film in the past year which details the life and times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, currently the Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States and who, since her appointment in 1993, has been the thorn in the side of every anti-progressive, ultra-conservative, women-bashing, jew-hating politician elected to represent a District, State or Country.

And, though it's usually couched in different terms by the haters, claiming to simply despise her liberal viewpoints, their hate really arises from simpler, more primal emotions - jealousy and fear. The fondest wish of those expressing the most hate, and therefore, have the greatest fear, is for the world to remain the same. Change is scary. Change is threatening. And RBG represents change.

Mrs. Ginsberg, as portrayed wonderfully by Felicity Jones in this film, can run mental rings around everyone who challenges her, in the classroom as well as the courtroom. Especially when it comes to the letter of the law. For Jones's RBG, she never met a challenge she couldn't tackle including caring for an infant and an ailing husband while attending more than her share of classes. And whether she's 23, her age when she began Harvard Law, or 85, her current age as a Supreme, there are few who can match wits or words with this Brooklyn dynamo and come out ahead. 

Felicity Jones and Armie Hammer in On the Basis of Sex (2018)

Good thing that her strongest advocate is also her husband, Martin Ginsburg (Armie Hammer), who, himself, is no slouch in the legal arena. A successful tax attorney, who is inherently liked by all, it is in fact he who, in 1970, first tosses, literally, tosses a document to his wife, the tax document that would eventually help refine and define the advancement of women in the workforce.

RBG's desire to expose the inherent illegality of sexual discrimination through citing this one obscure tax law brings the case quickly to the attention of the 10th Circuit of the US Court of Appeals, as well as her old nemesis, Dean Griswold. Once again, facing down an all-male cadre of opponents, RBG dons her battle face.  She also enlists the assistance of the ACLU, who, at first refuses to help the cause. RBG is stunned and wonders why - after all, are women's rights not also civil rights?  But the concern of the ACLU is much deeper than just one case.

Eventually her hard-headed daughter, so much like Ruth, also takes up the change is here, change is now, chant of the early '70's.

There are so many great verbal take-aways scattered like pearls throughout “Basis”. I'm not sure if RBG actually said them, or the writers thought they would be apropos. But they certainly are timeless and can be inscribed on any placard carried in any women's march even today. 'Words Matter'. 'Judges Cannot Ignore Cultural Change'. And my personal favorite, 'It's Not a Movement If Everyone's Just Sitting'.

As RBG states, 'Change minds first, then change the law'. It's a idea that's more than 50 years old, and still holds true. The law is a living, breathing part of our society. But in order for a society to grow, it must be willing to change. And, as RBG puts it, the law should 'set a new precedent'.

I would never have believed that a film about tax laws, legal briefs and the Appellate Court would bring me joy. But 'On The Basis Of Sex' did that, and I was not alone. RBG, I bow to your constant pursuit of equality, liberty and justice, for all.  

Lisa Blanck is the Associate Editor for In Focus Magazine.  She's a News Editor at WESH2 in Orlando, an NBC Affiliate. She was formerly with WKMG6 for 14 years as a News Editor. She spent nine years in advertising, marketing, promotions and live special events at Nickelodeon, Nick at Nite and MTV Networks. She also worked as an on-air host for local cable access programs. Lisa has covered the Florida Film Festival for the past 26 years as well as the World Peace Film Festival. She's currently a columnist for Lady Freethinker, and formerly wrote for, and She has been a columnist for the Focus In Newspaper and now for In Focus Magazine. 

Lisa Blanck can be reached at:

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