On the Basis of Sex is a biographical film about the struggles faced in the early career of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Ginsburg is played by Felicity Jones, and is responsible for the film being regarded as an empowering, proving that no one should ever give up fighting for what they believe in if they want to see change in the world. The movie is remarkably intriguing because it begins by focusing on Ginsburg’s early struggles as a woman attempting to become a lawyer, and then dives into the breakthrough case in which she represents Charles Moritz, played by Chris Mulkey, who is denied tax benefits typically given to women caring for family members. In doing so, Ginsburg hoped to ignite long-term, constitutional change regarding gender and society. With such a compelling story and powerful message, the movie has received excellent reviews from viewers and critics, scoring a 71% on Rotten Tomatoes with an average rating of 6.6 out of 10.
Perhaps what makes this story so compelling is that audiences, knowing that Ginsburg is one of three women on today’s Supreme Court, witness every struggle and setback in Ginsburg’s fight for gender equality. This was during a time in which Ginsburg couldn’t practice law because no firm wanted to hire a woman. Critics and viewers alike agree that the film is hugely empowering, as it does a fantastic job emphasizing the sexism that Ginsburg faced throughout her early career and contrasting that with her enormous success today. Jackie Sheerin-Weissenberg, MCAS ’22, states, “I think the movie was especially inspiring to me because I have always been a fan of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I had always known she was a remarkable woman. However, I didn’t quite realize how much she had to overcome to get to where she is today. It was very moving to see how hard she fought and how determined she was to change laws that continue to impact women today.”
The film also does a terrific job highlighting Ginsburg’s courage during a time when she was brave enough to step up and fight for what few others had dared to before. This aspect of the film is especially empowering to younger audiences, letting them know that no matter how discouraged you may be, or how gloomy a situation may look, you should never stop fighting for what you believe in. Angelina Mazzei, MCAS ’22, states, “On the Basis of Sex is the kind of movie that makes you realize in real life you have as many chances as you want as long as you’re willing to fight for them.”
Finally, viewers loved how the film emphasizes a stark contrast between Ginsburg’s harsh reality of gender inequalities in society and her home life where sexism did not affect her marriage. Ruth’s husband Marty Ginsburg, played by Armie Hammer, cooks meals, helps take care of their beloved daughter, Jane, and—most importantly—is extremely supportive of Ruth and her aspirations. Jenny Shunyakova, MCAS ’22, agrees that Ginsburg’s home life as portrayed in the film showcases the “immense support she received from her husband, as well as the inspiration her daughter gave her, motivating Ginsberg to continue pursuing equal rights for women under the law.”
While most critics positively review the movie, there are some that argue that it just does not do justice to all Ginsburg’s accomplishments, as it only covers 20 years of her life. People counter this argument by addressing that the film cannot possibly touch on everything she has accomplished thus far in her life and that it was meant to be a piece of a larger story, leaving viewers feeling inspired and wanting more. Sheerin-Weissenberg states, “As I left the theater, my friends and I discussed how we want to make a change just like she did and I hope other young women feel just as inspired to make a positive impact in this world.”
On the Basis of Sex is a powerful film because it depicts the real-life story of a woman who fought for gender equality and freedoms that are so importantly manifested in the world today. Her story is so empowering because viewers watch her struggle in a discriminatory society and fight for change, knowing that she now sits on the highest court of the land as a Supreme Court Justice.