This holiday season, you can take your children to see Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.
Or the one about that undersea superhero, Aquaman.
But if I had a daughter, she would be going with me to see the new film about Ruth Bader Ginsburg, On the Basis of Sex, which opens on Christmas. The Supreme Court associate justice, famously known as “the Notorious RBG,” is my kind of superhero, and this fictionalized drama tells of how she found her calling and became a fierce advocate for gender equality.
I’m not out to knock the other box-office offerings, which I’m sure are entertaining, but in the age of #MeToo, On the Basis of Sex is an important movie for youngsters to see. Roughly four in 10 working women in the United States have experienced gender discrimination on the job, according to a Pew Research Center survey. That ranges from sexual harassment to being paid less than a man doing the same work. Ginsburg has been fighting the good fight in this arena for virtually her entire career.
I can’t think of a better way to introduce youngsters to the backstory of the second woman appointed to the Supreme Court than with this first-run Hollywood production by Participant Media starring Felicity Jones and Armie Hammer. That’s why I organized a free advance screening this month at UA Riverview Plaza Stadium 17 for students from the Philadelphia High School for Girls, St. Basil Academy in Jenkintown, and Camden’s Pride Charter School.
I confess I was a little nervous when the students filed in that morning. Would they be interested in this story of the early years of an 85-year-old woman, even if she is one of the great legal minds of our time? I shouldn’t have worried. The students settled down immediately and seemed engaged, gasping at times, and making comments at various scenes, such as when the dean of Harvard Law School accuses Ginsburg and the other eight women in her class of occupying spots that could have gone to men.
As a woman and as an African American, I can identify with her struggle, especially how even after graduating at the top of her law school class, she was unable to land a job at a law firm simply because of her sex.
The movie centers around a pivotal case in Ginsburg’s early career, Moritz v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue, in which she and her late husband, Martin, defend an elderly male caregiver in Colorado who was denied a $600 tax deduction because of his sex. Ginsburg saw it as a test case that could help topple laws that discriminated against women.
As Ginsburg argues the case in the film, a judge soberly tells her, “The word woman does not even appear once in the U.S. Constitution.” Ginsburg, portrayed by Jones, shoots back: “Nor does the word freedom, Your Honor.”
I won’t spoil it for you by revealing what happens at the end, but suffice it to say it had us cheering and applauding.
“Women really have it hard out here," said Turwan Pratt, 17, a senior at Camden’s Pride, as he exited the theater. "They can’t even get the same jobs as we could get. And if they do, they get paid way less than we do because other men think that women aren’t equal as men. I think that everybody should be equal. That’s what Martin Luther King fought for. Black, white, women, men, all that.
“Equality is equality, no matter what.”
I’m sure Spider-Man or Aquaman could impart the same message. The difference is that Ginsburg is real.