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On the Basis of Sex Blu-ray Review – Tale of a Gender Equality Pioneer

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg championed equality for women under the law.

Apr 08, 2019

By: Lynn Barker

It’s 1956 in On the Basis of Sex and young, smart and pretty law student Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Felicity Jones) is one of only nine women in her Harvard Law School classes. Her husband Marty (Armie Hammer), a senior law student, takes care of the couples’ infant girl while she studies. Although she is teased and put down by male students and Dean Griswold (Sam Waterston), she marches on through her husband’s cancer scare and intense anti-female in the workplace insults to fight against discrimination purely on the basis of sex. Despite incredible odds, she succeeds in winning a landmark case.

On the Basis of Sex Trailer

 

Ruth is dressed for serious businessRuth is dressed for serious businessCourtesy of Universal Studios

Top of Her Class

Even though she endures discrimination in her classes at Harvard Law School, young Brooklyn native Ruth Bader Ginsburg climbs to the top of her class while taking care of her husband who comes down with cancer. She attends both her classes and his, taking notes, transcribing lectures and typing up his papers all while caring for their infant daughter Jane. Her determination is remarkable. She is basically superwoman!

Young Ruth in a sea of men in law schoolYoung Ruth in a sea of men in law schoolCourtesy of Universal Studios

Changes

Martin’s cancer goes into remission and he is hired by a New York law firm. Ruth asks the Harvard Dean to let her finish her Law Degree by taking classes at Columbia near his work. She is denied but transfers anyway and ends up with dual law degrees as first in her class from Harvard and Columbia but, in 1959, can’t get a good job because she is “a woman, a mother and a Jew”. After twelve turn downs from various law firms, Ruth takes a job as a professor at Rutgers Law School, teaching "The Law and Sex Discrimination". She is appalled that refusing a job to a woman on the basis of sex is legal!

Ruth wants a job despite male competitionRuth wants a job despite male competition

The Law-Changing Case

It’s 1970 and now teen daughter Jane (Cailee Spaeny) is also turning into an activist for women’s rights and Ruth is getting frustrated teaching. She wanted to change the world, not teach kids how to do it. Husband Martin brings a tax law case to Ruth's attention. Charles Moritz had to hire a nurse to help him care for his aging mother so he could continue to work. Moritz was denied a tax deduction for the nursing care because the tax code stated that an unmarried man like him could not claim this deduction. Ruth wants to challenge multiple laws that assume that men will work to provide for the family and women must stay home and take care of the husband and children. A win can set a precedent for future cases challenging laws that discriminate against women. Also, it might be easier for an all-male appellant court to identify with a male’s case.

Marty shares childcare dutiesMarty shares childcare dutiesCourtesy of Universal Studios

Civil Liberties Union

Mel Wulf (Justin Theroux) of the ACLU and Ruth’s friend thinks the case in unwinnable and refuses to help her. Ruth goes to famous activist and civil rights advocate Dorothy Kenyon (Kathy Bates), who is doubtful but later meets with Wulf and convinces him to sign on. After convincing client Charles Moritz to let the Ginsburgs and ACLU take his case, they file an appeal to get him his tax benefits. Wulf trains Ruth in a pretend, practice court to argue the case. She doesn’t do well. It is decided Martin will lead with the tax law and Ruth would wrap up with the equal rights arguments.

Ruth, daughter Jane and activist Dorothy KenyonRuth, daughter Jane and activist Dorothy KenyonCourtesy of Universal Studios

Pre Trial

Ruth hopes this case doesn’t ruin her husband’s career and that her daughter will stop thinking of her as a bully. She continues the case but the government offers Moritz a settlement of one dollar. Ruth wants the government to pay Moritz the sum he claimed as a deduction, make a declaration that he did nothing wrong, and enter into the record that the gender-based portion of the tax law is unconstitutional. The government declines this offer, setting the stage for a trial.

Ruth with ACLU friend WulfRuth with ACLU friend Wulf

Ruth’s Legal Argument

The trial is on and Martin takes more time to address the tax law question than expected. Ruth is very nervous but makes several key points and can reserve only four minutes of her time for rebuttal. The opposition lawyer says he is defending the American Way of Life, saying that the Ginsburgs and ACLU want too radical a social change and hey, maybe Moritz just doesn’t want to pay his taxes. In four minutes, Ruth drives it home that the world is changing and the law needs to change as well. Women at home while men work is no longer a solid rule. Cliché labeling of who works and who doesn’t no longer applies etc.

Marty and Ruth on way to the big trialMarty and Ruth on way to the big trialCourtesy of Universal Studios

A Brighter Future

At first The Ginsburgs, Wulf and Moritz think they may not win but Ruth has found her courtroom “voice”, is no longer as nervous and knows she did her best. Will Ruth win her case and change discrimination on the basis of sex laws? Yes! She goes on to co-found the Women’s Rights Project at the ACLU which then changed many gender-based laws and, in 1993 was appointed associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Despite recent illness, she still serves there at age 85. 

Ruth and Marty work on the big caseRuth and Marty work on the big case

Extra Bonus Features

  • A Supreme Team: Making On the Basis of Sex – Director Mimi Leder talks about discrimination against women in the past when Ruth was young and now. Armie Hammer talks about working with Mimi and Felicity talks about researching RBG and meeting her. Production design and working on costumes of the period are discussed. Nice.

Ruth in a 1950's party dressRuth in a 1950's party dress
  • Legacy of Justice – focuses on how RBG’s work is relevant today, her struggles for equality and how she made a big difference in gender equality. More work to do yet today. Right on, sister!
  • Martin and Ruth: A Loving Partnership – gives us a peek at the personal lives of Ruth and her supportive husband.  In the 1950’s and beyond, it wasn’t as normal for men to support their wives’ careers, nor stay home part of the time to cook and do childcare. Martin Ginsberg was before his time and RBG still credits him for aiding her accomplishments. So cool!

Wrapping Up

This Blu-ray/DVD/Digital set looks and sounds just fine. Extras are few but they do help us better understand the accomplishments of the great Supreme Court Justice RBG.

Felicity and Armie at an event for the filmFelicity and Armie at an event for the filmCourtesy of Universal Studios

On the Basis of Sex is so inspiring. It’s a well-acted biopic about a woman who, despite a lot of self-doubt and in a time of great discrimination against women, rose to champion equality laws and change antiquated rules based on gender. In short, Ruth Rocks! Felicity Jones (of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) plays her quite convincingly and passionately even if her Brooklyn accent fades in and out at times. Armie Hammer makes a great (and hunky) supportive husband. Kathy Bates has a tiny but effective role as a civil rights activist.

Director Mimi Leder with Felicity and ArmieDirector Mimi Leder with Felicity and ArmieCourtesy of Universal Studios

The film is important, especially for young people since it shows you that our current world, in which women have a much bigger and more equal part, wasn’t always that way and it took courageous and tenacious men and women like Ruth to change it for the better. For pure inspiration, add this Blu-ray to your home collection. We award four stars.

On the Basis of Sex Blu-ray Rating:

Courtesy of Universal Studios

Buy On the Basis of Sex Tuesday, April 9th

Speak Out!

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