One of the earliest scenes of the documentary RBG, a rosy biography of Democratic Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, shows the 85-year-old working out at the gym to rap music. Triumphantly lifting dumbbells and doing pushups under the guidance of her longtime fitness trainer Bryant Johnson, Ginsberg is showing off her vivaciousness as the oldest current Supreme Court Justice, a reassuring wink to the many people rooting for her longevity to be indefinite. The thought is admittedly a bit morbid, even moreseo when we hear later about her bouts with cancer in 1999 and 2009. But her wellness is on plenty of liberals' minds -- after Antonin Scalia died, the battle to replace the Justice ended with Merrick Garland, a Trump-appointed conservative, on the bench. The loss of a Democrat could shift the balance of the Supreme Court for a generation.
The idea behind the film wasn’t to focus on the necessity of Ginsburg's point of view under the Trump administration. Co-directors Julie Cohen and Betsy West were instead interested in profiling the second-ever female Supreme Court Justice during an uptick in her popularity among young Americans. The title of the documentary isn’t merely Ginsburg’s initials, but a nod to her nickname, "Notorious R.B.G.," obviously inspired by the Notorious B.I.G. She earned a reputation for being a judicial rebel following her dissenting opinion in the 2013 case Shelby County v. Holder, in which she defended the need to protect the Voting Rights Act.
"Throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet," she famously wrote.
Later that year, the "Notorious R.B.G." became a meme, thanks in part to a blog on Tumblr, which later spawned a book. Its authors, Shana Knizhnik and Irin Carmon, are among the interviewees in the film, offering the millennial perspective on the icon. Other talking heads in the documentary include childhood friends, her two children, and a granddaughter who just graduated from Harvard Law School half a century after Ginsburg became one of its inaugural female enrollees. Ginsburg herself is interviewed, mostly sharing retrospective commentary on her most landmark cases, before and after she joined the U.S. Supreme Court in 1993, appointed by Bill Clinton.