‘On the Basis of Sex’ is a feminist masterpiece

Back to Article
Back to Article

‘On the Basis of Sex’ is a feminist masterpiece

courtesy of IMDb

courtesy of IMDb

courtesy of IMDb

Trevor Tyle, Life & Arts Editor

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.

Email This Story

Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a total badass.

So it goes without saying that, if you’re going to make a movie about her, it would be wise on your part to not fuck it up. Thankfully, director Mimi Leder understands that.

Leder’s new film, “On the Basis of Sex,” is a superhero origin story of sorts. But this isn’t some “Wonder Woman” knockoff or anything like that — this is the real deal.

The film depicts Ginsburg’s formative years as a law student, professor and lawyer. Played by the remarkable Felicity Jones (“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”), the now 85-year-old Supreme Court Justice is proven to be just as feisty in her youth as ever.

When we meet Ruth in the film, she’s an eager first-year Harvard Law School student — one of nine women in a class of approximately 500 men. After her husband Martin (Armie Hammer) falls ill with testicular cancer, Ruth must care for the couple’s young daughter Jane (Cailee Spaeny) and attend her own classes, as well as Martin’s.

After Martin recovers and finds a job in New York, Ruth transfers to Columbia Law School to finish her degree and eventually acquires a job as a professor at Rutgers Law School.

Initially unsatisfied with the position after being denied countless jobs as a lawyer due to her gender, the opportunity finally presents itself for her to prove herself.

Ruth comes across the case of Charles Moritz (Chris Mulkey), an unmarried man who hired a nurse to help care for his ailing mother and was denied a tax deduction for such care. In short, tax law at the time limited this deduction to women, perpetuating the stereotype that women are confined to a traditional caretaker role.

But, as I’m sure you guessed, this is a film about the notorious RGB, and if you thought she was going to stand for that, you were very, very wrong. She decides to take the case in hopes of setting a precedent against the discrimination of men and women in the law.

By the time the end credits roll, one thing is clear — “On the Basis of Sex” excels in nearly every way. The film is incredibly important, if for nothing else, because it’s female-fronted. Considering what a feminist icon the real-life Ginsburg is, it’s only fitting that the film about her was directed by a woman, particularly in a world where female film directors are still few and far between.

The film’s narrative is equally notable for its relevance in today’s current political climate, particularly driven home by the repetition of a quote from scholar Paul Freund throughout — “the Court should never be influenced by the weather of the day, but inevitably they will be influenced by the climate of the era.”

Though perhaps slightly less effective than, say, “BlacKkKlansman,” “On the Basis of the Sex” is released in the vein of such a film in that it triumphantly uses historical homages to address the issues that continue to plague our society today.

But “On the Basis of Sex” is nothing without Jones’ nearly faultless acting chops. Hailing from Britain, Jones noticeably struggles to successfully nail Ginsburg’s distinct Brooklyn accent throughout the film, but it’s a trivial detail that can easily be overlooked. Her supporting cast is equally impeccable, including the likes of Hammer, Justin Theroux and Kathy Bates, the latter of whose role is small but significant. The final moments of “On the Basis of Sex” even include one incredible — and surprisingly emotional — cameo from Ginsburg herself.

“On the Basis of Sex” is an empowering testament to Ginsburg’s small-but-mighty stature in the fight for gender equality. Though it’s largely gone unrecognized throughout awards season, “On the Basis of Sex” is arguably one of the most powerful cinematic attempts at understanding the issue of gender disparity in the United States in years.

Rating: 4.5/5 stars