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The Making of RBG

Justice Ginsburg mid workout routine in RBG
Justice Ginsburg mid workout routine in RBG

in a scene in RBG, a new documentary, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg works out in the gym. 

RBG, a new documentary, reflects on the life and accomplishments of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Now 85, Bader Ginsburg is one of the most admired women in the United States. In recent years, she has become a pop culture icon.

“An icon is a hero, and RBG is certainly that to many Americans today, even a superhero,” says filmmaker Betsy West, who directed the documentary with Julie Cohen.

As one of the first women to ascend to the Supreme Court, Bader Ginsburg has long been outspoken in her defense of equality for all. Her fiery dissents on the high court have earned her the nickname “Notorious R.B.G.,” a nod to rapper Notorious B.I.G.



Joan Ruth Bader was born in 1933 in Brooklyn, New York. She graduated from Cornell University, where she met her future husband, Martin Ginsburg.

In 1956, Bader Ginsburg enrolled at Harvard Law School. She was one of eight female students in a class of 500. A professor asked the women, “How do you justify taking a spot from a qualified man?”

Despite the discrimination she faced, Bader Ginsburg become one of the top students in her class. When her husband got a job in New York City, she transferred to Columbia Law School, where she graduated as one of the top two students.

After becoming a lawyer and the mother of two young children, Bader Ginsburg took on several high-profile cases seeking gender equality. She would go on to argue six cases before the Supreme Court, winning a total of five.

“She came up with a strategy for how to fight injustice and worked step-by-step over many years to rewrite the rules that hurt women and girls,” Cohen told me in a recent interview.


A scene from RBG

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg in her office


In one of her most famous cases as a Supreme Court Justice, Bader Ginsburg authored United States v. Virginia. The 1996 decision permitted women to attend the Virginia Military Institute, which had been all-male. Bader Ginsburg argued that as long as women were capable and willing, they should not be denied access to the military academy. The case led to increased opportunities for women across the U.S.

Bader Ginsburg, who was once a law professor, still considers herself to be a teacher. “I try to teach through my opinions, through my speeches, how wrong it is to judge people on the basis of what they look like, the color of their skin, whether they’re men or women,” she once told author and reporter Irin Carmon.


Julie Cohen and Betsy West, directors of RBG

Filmmakers Betsy West (left) and Julie Cohen, directors of “RBG”


After 25 years on the Supreme Court, Bader Ginsburg still works tirelessly, crafting elegant legal decisions that advance equality and social justice. Despite battling serious illnesses, she can be seen in RBG holding a plank for a shocking 30 seconds during a training session at the gym.

“Almost everyone,” West says, “is inspired by what you can see in this film: an 85-year-old woman who keeps herself in shape by working out at the gym, lifting weights, and doing push-ups and planks.”

One of the few things that Justice Bader Ginsburg cannot do, according to her two grown children, is cook.

Top and middle photos courtesy of Magnolia Pictures; bottom photo by Myles Pettengill, courtesy of Magnolia Pictures