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'On The Basis Of Sex' Follows A Fiery Young Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Felicity Jones as Ruth Bader Ginsburg in <em>On the Basis of Sex</em>.
Jonathan Wenk
Focus Features
Felicity Jones as Ruth Bader Ginsburg in On the Basis of Sex.

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is having a moment. For the past couple of years, she's transcended her role on the Court, becoming a liberal pop culture icon.

CNN made a much-hailed documentary about her life, titled RBG. There have been several biographies. She wrote her own memoir in 2016. There's even a coloring book.

Now, her story is being told yet again, in a new film starring Felicity Jones.

On the Basis of Sex is inspired by the story of a young Ginsburg, plowing through law school as one of only nine women in her Harvard class. Despite a stellar academic career, she couldn't find a job after graduating. So instead of starting her career in the courtroom, she went to the classroom, teaching at Rutgers University with a focus on sex discrimination law.

The film is directed by Mimi Leder, and she joined Felicity Jones to speak with Morning Edition host Rachel Martin.

Interview Highlights

Jones on preparing for the role

Initially, I was very very intimidated. It's nerve wracking playing such a beloved woman, and I, myself, am a huge fan of her. But I had to put the fandom away, and play the truth of this woman's experience, and really get into the mind of who this woman was when she was younger, when she was much more, in many respects, open to the world and show how does someone get to that position.

Leder on the tax law case at the center of the movie

[Marty Ginsburg] brings her this case. First of all, she didn't teach tax cases. She never even read them ... He was the tax lawyer and became one of the preeminent tax attorneys in our country. So, it's a case about a man who is a caregiver, who files for a tax deduction ... and is denied the tax deduction because he is a never-married man. And in those days the law read that only a woman is in the home, and only a widower can receive this tax deduction.

So they used this man, Charles Moritz, to argue gender discrimination, and they won this tax case, and what it did was it overturned 178 different laws that discriminated on the basis of sex and were found unconstitutional.

Jones on the sexism Ginsburg faced even from her supporters, like Mel Wulf of the ACLU

I think he's very much a creature of his time. He's very representative of the sexism of those constant ... patronizing comments, those dismissive remarks, the putdowns, the low expectations. Mel Wulf is not immune to that, and it just shows that Ruth was fighting on so many fronts.

Jones on Ginsburg's relationship with her daughter Jane and inter-generational feminism

Ruth was very much at the mercy of time in many ways. You see that sort of 1950's patriarchy at play, and she's having to conform to that on so many levels, and she's having to be so sophisticated in how she pushes against it, because to her the most important thing is that she wins. And then what you see with Jane is Jane doesn't have to do that. The times have shifted enough that Jane can get angry and she can be more outspoken.

Reena Advani and Victoria Whitley-Berry edited this interview for broadcast. Victoria Whitley-Berry and Petra Mayer adapted it for the Web.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.