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Film Review: “On the Basis of Sex” (2018) ★★★★


We are so pre-occupied with what is right and what is wrong. With the rules that the society dictates, we forget to look into the deeper issues that lies in the lack of our desire to change our mindsets. It was not long ago when women had no right to vote, the rights of the black community was suppressed and murdered at every possible level. Also, when men would think that the only place women must feel comfortable lies in the kitchen. It takes courage to stand against stereotypes and, moreover, to stand before the supreme court judges the same way RBG did to say, “I ask you not for changes in society. I ask you to protect the right of the country to change.” 

When the movie opens, we find a young Ruth Ginsburg happily married to Marty Ginsburg, a loving and caring husband, raising together a daughter, Jane, who when she grows up, becomes as stubborn as her mother, in a good way of course. Ruth enters Harvard Law School, at a time when a total of nine women had the privilege to study law in 1956. Erwin Griswold, the law professor of Harvard, does not hide his disappointment of the appearance of women at the school when the same spots could have been occupied by men. Being a victim of discrimination, Ruth continues her hard work, managing three responsibilities at the same time – studying for herself, on behalf of Marty (while he fights with the fifth stage of cancer), and being a mother.

When years later she learns about Charles E. Moritz, a single man who has never been married, that he’s at home taking care of his mother with disability and refused by the Internal Revenue Agency to a tax deduction for expenses. Aside from the reason just mentioned above, the agency stated that the deduction itself was limited to a woman, a widow or divorced, or a husband whose wife in incapacitated or institutionalized, categories they argue Mr. Moritz did not fall into. Ruth, seeing this as a clear discrimination on the basis of sex, begins arguing the case known as Moritz v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue pro bono before the U.S. Court of Appealing that sets the stage to overturn over a century of sex discrimination.

As you watch the movie, whether you are a man or a woman, there is no way to take it easy, especially when you hear how women back then were supressed and treated like a decoration for men. Credit that must go to Marty Ginsburg, since Ruth was not discriminated at home, and in fact was fully supported by her husband who goes with her all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to argue Moritz’s case. But even when he had a chance to shine alone, he knew when to stop and allow his wife to do her job, as he knew she would simply nail it. “You are ready for this. You have been ready for this your entire life. Go up there and show the judges Ruth Ginsburg I know,” he tells her right before the hearing.

It was obvious though why the young lawyer takes the case. She wanted to protect the rights of women. But she sympathises with Moritz a lot as a man who would sacrifice his own time to spend all day with his mother to provide the best care possible. This is how the case for her turns quickly from giving the voice to women to giving voice to everyone, which is what makes her such a unique advocate in a harsh time when she knew how to use her stubbornness, determination and willingness to fight for what is right, so the judges before her ignore her gender and listen to what she has to say instead.

What the case told in the “On the Basis of Sex” teaches us is that the life we live should not be repeated. It must set the precedent, and it does not really matter the scale of impact it may have. Attempt and speaking up are the steps that can lead all of us towards a bountiful future, the same way RBD lead us back then. Written by Daniel Stiepleman and directed by Mimi Leder, “On the Basis of Sex” is the story of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, her profound and deeply important struggle for equal rights and what she had to go through in order to become a U.S. Supreme Court Justice. But on top of that, it’s the story of changes, courage and a very exciting process of American justice system, that in most cases never disappoints.

In conclusion, beside the solid performances delivered by Felicity Jones and Armie Hammer, it still was the show of Mimi Leder who allowed her directorial work to deliver its own performance. She showcased great balance between family drama and legal drama. She lets the story play its own part, while she herself quietly followed one scene after another to ensure everything you are about to see will be as great, as tense and as real as it was back then. Ruth Ginsburg and her husband fought together side by side as one. On top of many things we all can take away from this movie, it’s the connection of Marty and Ruth that will fascinate you the most. True, it has always been said that it’s up to a woman to turn her husband into a King so she can become a Queen. In the case of Marty and Ruth, it took the two, their love for each other, and their belief in the justice system that without them it will remain outdated.

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