“On the Basis of Sex” strongly portrays Ruth Bader Ginsburg as a lone feminist crusader



“On the Basis of Sex” has a great overall message despite some flaws writes Assistant Editor An Ngo.

An Ngo, Assistant Editor

Amid an ocean of generically suited white men carrying briefcases and walking briskly to the sound of Harvard’s “Ten Thousand Men of Harvard,” we see a young Ruth Bader Ginsburg, her bright cerulean blue suit sharply contrasting against the drab looking men around her. Ginsburg walks excitedly into the Harvard hall and sits down next to a male peer who looks absolutely bewildered by her presence. The incoming group of law students is addressed by Dean Erwin Griswold, who asks, “What does it mean to be a Harvard man?” 

As is made evident, themes of sexism and exclusion are strongly portrayed throughout “On the Basis of Sex” with repeated, often over the top, imagery depicting Ginsburg as a lone feminist crusader.

Despite leaving something to be yearned in regard to subtlety, “On the Basis of Sex” does a thorough job at telling the important and relevant story of late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The movie reminds viewers to not take the rights enjoyed today for granted, showing how recently sex discrimination was protected by the law and how tumultuous the fight to change the courts’ views was.

The movie shows Ginsburg’s life from when she enters Harvard Law School through the early struggles of her law career. The movie focuses on Ginsburg’s first case, Charles E. Moritz v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue, where a man, Charles Moritz, was discriminated against for his sex when he was denied a caregiver’s tax deduction. Viewers get a clear picture of the obstacles Ginsburg faces, from the strong defense team that includes Dean Griswold, to the opposition from her own team. 

Mel Wulf, the then legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union and an ally to Ginsburg, tells her, “You will lose, Ruth, and when you do, you will be setting the women’s movement back 10 years.” 

Besides the overt obstacles she faces, the movie paints a pattern of the relentless microaggressions and dismissive treatment she received throughout her career. These microaggressions are one of the most successful parts of the biopic as they’re familiar and relevant to many viewers, making it clear that the fight for equality doesn’t end with Ginsburg’s career.

The biopic makes many attempts at bringing us closer to Ginsburg, but it ultimately fails in giving viewers a truly intimate, personal look at the future Supreme Court Justice. All her personal disputes with her husband, played by Armie Hammer, and daughter, played by Cailee Spaeny, revolve around her gender and career. This was a missed opportunity to use her relationships to deepen the viewer’s understanding of Ginsburg. 

Another attempt at humanizing Ginsburg was an unnecessary and polite sex scene between Ginsburg and her husband that only works to widen the gap between viewers and the justice. Ginsburg, a revered historical figure, commands respect, meaning viewers naturally feel a well-deserved sense of disconnect to her. The movie could have brought viewers closer to her by portraying her as a multi-dimensional figure, rather than limiting her to being only a women’s rights crusader.

“On the Basis of Sex,” despite its flaws, is a worthwhile watch that tells a story that is undeniably consequential and relevant, especially after the recent death of its subject. The biopic is a way for viewers to remember and celebrate the legacy of the late Supreme Court Justice. 

Stream the two-hour movie on Showtime or rent it on Prime Video if you’re looking to remember the late justice in a straightforward, entertaining manner. While the movie is nothing to rave about, its subject and story are by themselves compelling enough to garner a watch.