Hollywood biopic on the life of Ruth Bader Ginsburg serves up plenty of fiction to go with the facts

The left have long lionized Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, so it comes as no surprise that the new Hollywood biopic based on her remarkable life, “On the Basis of Sex,” would dress up reality a bit.

When you consider that the script was written by Daniel Stiepleman, a nephew of the Supreme Court justice, you begin to understand that there’s lots of polish — add to that the fact that Ginsburg herself helped edit parts of the script and, well, rest assured that if there are any warts, they’ve been dressed up.

More from USA Today:

“The film is part love story, part legal drama, showing how a young Ginsburg (Felicity Jones) and her husband, Martin (Armie Hammer), won their first case together in court in the early 1970s. […]

Stiepleman consulted with his aunt as he wrote “Basis,” sticking to many of the facts while taking some liberties with the new movie.

 

Ginsburg herself acknowledged that liberties were taken during an interview earlier this month with NPR’s Nina Totenberg.

“This film is part-fact, part-imaginative, but what’s wonderful about it is that the imaginative parts fit in with the story so well,” Ginsburg said, according to The Daily Beast.

 

Not that Ginsburg didn’t make an effort to stay true to the facts, as was seen when the script ignored that her husband, Marty, gave her the sex-discrimination case at the center of the movie.

According to USA Today’s Patrick Ryan, Stiepleman was fearful that the true account might diminish Ginsburg’s accomplishments.

“I was writing a movie about a leading feminist and was scared it could feel like the man is driving the story forward,” Stiepleman said. “So in the first draft, I had her finding the case on her own. But Ruth read (the script) and said, ‘Your uncle handed me that case and he deserves credit for it.’ ”

Another fictional aspect of the film involved feminist lawyer Dorothy Kenyon helping Ginsburg gain the support of the ACLU in the case.

“Ruth said, ‘I don’t want people to think I invented this area of the law, as if it never occurred to anyone that women should be considered equal under the equal protection principle,'” Stiepleman said.

“When she wrote her brief, she included those two women as co-authors, even though they didn’t write it, because she felt so indebted to them,” he added. “So I added the scene where Ruth visits Dorothy Kenyon to serve that purpose.”

The storyline being invented because Ginsburg wanted to portray herself as standing on the shoulders of women like Dorothy Kenyon and Pauli Murray, who came before her.

The role of Ginsburg’s daughter, Jane, is also not portrayed accurately.

In the film, she is depicted as “an outspoken activist: skipping school to attend a Gloria Steinem-led rally, poring through legal documents to find discriminatory laws, and ultimately convincing her mom to stay on the “Moritz” case when others advise her to settle,” Ryan noted.

In truth, Jane Ginsburg had no role in her mother’s early legal career. She studied law at Harvard University, before becoming a professor at Columbia, where she remains today.

“They had a relationship similar to the one in the film, in terms of butting heads and being women with strong opinions,” Stiepleman said, explaining that he combined her character with that of a law student who helped Ruth put together the case.

The daughter’s portrayal “represented to Ruth … the next generation of a feminist,” he added.

The “climactic courtroom scene” in the film also never happened, according to Ryan, and Ginsburg “never froze up” in front of the three-judge appellate panel. There was also no rebuttal that inspired Ginsburg to win the case.

And while Hollywood is famous for butchering history, and there are other differences in the film, like the heights of the characters or doing the “twist” before the dance was popular, it’s safe to say moviegoers are getting the very best of Ruth Bader Ginsburg — carefully designed to set a strong foundation for her legacy.

Tom Tillison

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