Ruth — Justice Ginsburg in Her Own Words

Posted on February 12, 2021 at 5:40 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: None
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: February 13, 2021
copyright 2021 Virgil Films

We’ve had a feature film about Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s early years (“On the Basis of Sex“) and an excellent documentary already (“RBG“). But if the late Justice Ginsburg were here today, she might prefer this documentary, featuring, as its title indicates, her own words, as she spoke them.

A few other people get to speak as well, including a colleague who worked with then-Professor Ginsburg on her ground-breaking briefs for her Supreme Court challenges to laws because they denied vital civil rights on the basis of gender. She says their goal was to see if they could get the briefs to “sing.” And “hers sang.” The elegance, grace, erudition, imperishable integrity, and inescapable logic of her legal writing was her superpower.

It almost seems laughable now that there was an Oklahoma statute allowing women to buy beer at age 18 but prohibiting men from buying it until age 21. Not only was there one, but Oklahoma felt so strongly about it they actually argued in support of it at the Supreme Court. The brilliance of Professor Ginsburg’s strategy was to bring cases that were unfair to men because of stereotypes about women. And so, she argued the case features in “On the Basis of Sex,” about a widower denied Social Security benefits because they were only given to single mothers, not fathers. And a case brought by a man who objected to the law making jury duty mandatory for men, but not for women, denying him a fully representative group. If the outcome of these cases seems obvious to us now, it is only because of Justice Ginsburg, who argued six gender discrimination cases before the Supreme Court, winning all but one.

Most of her career was before the ubiquity of cameras, so the archival footage that this documentary draws from public appearances, most of them involving her being honored. One especially touching scene has her returning to the grade school she attended as a child. Her face is luminous as she visits the First Grade classroom where she learned to read and the library, now named for her, that she loved.

This familiar with her work will recognize but enjoy the segments about her devoted husband Marty, her amusement at her iconic status, and her love for opera, including an opera based on her improbable friendship with her ideological opposite, Justice Scalia. We also get a glimpse of some of today’s biggest names in their younger days, President Biden as Senator and as Vice President, for example, and a more collegial era in politics as Justice Ginsburg was nominated and confirmed. And we learn about the impact of Justice Ginsburg’s majority decision requiring the Virginia Military Institute to accept qualified women. Somehow she was not persuaded by the lawyer who argued that WMI teaches “manly values that only men can learn.” Her dissents had an important impact as well, as we learn from Lilly Ledbetter, the namesake of landmark legislation tracking Justice Ginsburg’s dissenting opinion. (Be sure to stay for the credits to see Ledbetter again.) Here’s hoping her blistering dissent in the Citizens United case has as meaningful a result.

Those who want to understand the importance of Justice Ginsburg’s words should read her decisions, which mean more than the interviews and interactions in this film. It is not so much the words that matter here as Justice Ginsburg’s intellect and her “consuming love” for the law, her character, her kindness, her empathy, and her purpose. She says she wants to be remembered as “someone who cares about people and does the best she can with the talents she has to make a contribution for a better world.” This movies shows she did all that and more.

Parents should know that this movie concerns gender discrimination. There is no bad language or violence but there are references to a sad death of a parent to injustice.

Family discussion: Why did Justice Ginsburg become such a well-known figure? Why are her dissents so significant?

If you like this, try: “On the Basis of Sex” and “RBG”

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Family Movies for Martin Luther King Day

Posted on January 15, 2021 at 10:40 am

As we celebrate the birthday of Martin Luther King, every family should take time to talk about this great American leader and hero of the Civil Rights Movement. There are outstanding films and other resources for all ages.

New this week is “MLK/FBI” with newly released material about the government’s surveillance, of Dr. King, including informants and wiretaps.

I highly recommend the magnificent movie Boycott, starring Jeffrey Wright as Dr. King. And every family should study the history of the Montgomery bus boycott that changed the world.

It is humbling to remember that the boycotters never demanded complete desegregation of the public transit; that seemed too unrealistic a goal. This website has video interviews with the people who were there. This newspaper article describes Dr. King’s meeting with the bus line officials. And excellent teaching materials about the Montgomery bus boycott are available, including the modest and deeply moving reminder to the boycotters once segregation had been ruled unconstitutional that they should “demonstrate calm dignity,” “pray for guidance,” and refrain from boasting or bragging.

Families should also read They Walked To Freedom 1955-1956: The Story of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Paul Winfield has the lead in King, a brilliant and meticulously researched NBC miniseries co-starring Cecily Tyson that covers Dr. King’s entire career.

The brilliant film Selma tells the story of the fight for voting rights.

The Long Walk Home, starring Whoopi Goldberg and Sissy Spacek, makes clear that the boycott was a reminder to black and white women of their rights and opportunities — and risk of change.

Citizen King is a PBS documentary with archival footage of Dr. King and his colleagues. Martin Luther King Jr. – I Have a Dream has his famous speech in full, still one of the most powerful moments in the history of oratory and one of the most meaningful moments in the history of freedom.

For children, Our Friend, Martin and Martin’s Big Words are a good introduction to Dr. King and the Civil Rights movement.

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Best Documentaries 2020

Posted on December 30, 2020 at 10:28 pm

Copyright 2020 Jaywalker Films
We are living in the golden age of documentaries, each year better than the one before. While print and broadcast media are struggling to keep their audiences, too often by becoming shrill and blurring the line between news and commentary, documentaries are becoming a powerful force for journalism, vivid, revealing, and letting us see and hear the significant participants in the story. Many of them were about politics, some more directly than others. But like nearly all documentaries, they were about people who are passionate and dedicated to what they do, whether it is seeking justice or winning an athletic competition. The best of the year, in alphabetical order:

All In ties current voter suppression policies to the Jim Crow history of keeping the poor and people of color away from the voting booth.

Athlete A, named for the then-anonymous gymnast whose complaint led to the first public disclosure of decades of abuse by Larry Nassar, reveals that the toxic culture of USA Gymnastics was about protecting the brand, not the girls.

Boys State: The American Legion brings high school students together to run mock elections in separate gatherings for boys and girls. This documentary is a microcosm of our political system, as seen by and perpetuated by teenagers.

Crip Camp: As significant and has hard fought and as perpetual as the movements for racial and gender equality, but not nearly as well known is the fight for disability rights. And it turns out in large part it began at a summer camp for disabled teenagers in the 1970s. Archival footage of the camp days and the protests and interviews with the major players are moving and inspiring.

Dear Santa: Director Dana Nachman says she hopes her movies inspire tears, laughter, and chills, and “Dear Santa,” about the USPS staff and volunteers who make sure children’s letters to Santa get answered, has plenty of all three. This film’s message that it’s truly better to give than receive is especially timely, combined with the now-nostalgic images of maskless people crowding together and giving each other hugs.

Dick Johnson is Dead is a fantastical meditation on loss from director/cinematographer Kirsten Johnson as her father struggles (cheerfully) with memory loss.

Feels Good Man A gentle cartoonists finds to his horror that his drawing of a frog has been adopted as a symbol by white supremacists, with a fascinating, terrifying, and very creepy look at the way memes go viral.

The Fight follows lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union as they challenge four Trump administration initiatives that raise issues of inequality: separating families seeking legal immigration, the denial of abortion rights for an undocumented minor in custody, the prohibition of trans people in the military, and the insertion of a question about citizenship in the 2020 census.

Howard is not just the story of the life of the gifted writer/lyricist Howard Ashman (“The Little Mermaid,” “Little Shop of Horrors”), but the story of how stories come together, particularly in one monumental turning point at Disney animation.

John Lewis: Good Trouble is the story of one of the leading figures of the 20th century, the youngest speaker at Dr. Martin Luther King’s March on Washington, the student protester whose skull was broken on the march to Selma, and the US Congressman who was an irrepressible force for good.

Nationtime William Greaves’ restoration of archival footage lets us see many of the luminaries at the 1972 meeting of the National Black Political Convention held in Gary, Indiana. Their stirring speeches are inspiring and illuminating as we consider how much has changed and how much has not.

Copyright Netflix 2020

Rising Phoenix The Paralympics, which take place just after the Olympics in the same location, is about more than who can be the fastest, the strongest, the best. It is about reclaiming the idea of wholeness, for the athletes themselves but, more importantly, for everyone, to show differently abled people as powerful, capable. The athletic feats are stunning. The stories are even moreso.

Slaying the Dragon is about the Republican funders’ decision to focus on getting candidates elected by gerrymandering (though both parties are guilty) following the first election of President Obama and the citizen-led initiatives to overturn it.

The Surge “The Surge” follows three idealistic Democratic women who were inspired by the election of Donald Trump to run for office.

The Way I See It White House photographer Pete Souza proves and exemplifies two perennial adages: If a picture is worth a thousand words, his photographs are as eloquent as a whole library. And if journalism is the first draft of history, Souza not only reminds us of how much of our sense of events is formed by images like his, and in his new documentary, “The Way I See It,” like the photographs he took, reward a deeper look.

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Critics Choice Documentary Awards 2020

Posted on November 18, 2020 at 10:59 am

This has been a great year for documentaries and it was very hard to decide on my ballot for the Critics Choice Awards. I salute all of this year’s nominees and awardees.

“Dick Johnson is Dead” (Netflix)

Kirsten Johnson, “Dick Johnson is Dead” (Netflix)

Melissa Haizlip, “Mr. SOUL!” (Shoes in the Bed Productions)

Roger Horrocks, “My Octopus Teacher” (Netflix)

Lindy Jankura, Alexis Johnson and Alex Keipper, “Totally Under Control” (Neon)

Marco Beltrami, Brandon Roberts and Buck Sanders, “The Way I See It” (Focus Features)

“David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet”(Netflix)

David Attenborough, Narrator
David Attenborough, Writer

“MLK/FBI” (Field of Vision/IFC Films)

“John Lewis: Good Trouble” (Magnolia Pictures/Participant)

“Beastie Boys Story” (Apple)
“The Go-Go’s” (Showtime)

“Boys State” (Apple)

“My Octopus Teacher” (Netflix)

“Ali & Cavett: The Tale of the Tapes” (HBO)
“Athlete A” (Netflix)

“St. Louis Superman” (MTV Documentary Films)
(Directors and Producers: Sami Khan and Smriti Mundhra. Producer: Poh Si Teng)

Dr. Rick Bright – “Totally Under Control” (Neon)
Steven Garza – “Boys State” (Apple)
The Go-Go’s – “The Go-Go’s” (Showtime)
Judith Heumann – “Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution” (Netflix)
Dick Johnson – “Dick Johnson is Dead” (Netflix)
Maggie Nichols, Rachael Denhollander, Jamie Dantzscher – “Athlete A” (Netflix)
Fox Rich – “Time” (Amazon)
Pete Souza – “The Way I See It” (Focus Features)
Taylor Swift – “Miss Americana” (Netflix)
Greta Thunberg – “I Am Greta” (Hulu)

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Watch “All In” for Free! Democracy Documentary

Posted on October 29, 2020 at 2:51 pm

The terrific documentary “All In: The Fight for Democracy,” a love letter to the power of the vote, will be available worldwide to audiences everywhere from October 29th until November 1st on the Prime Video YouTube page. This will allow the filmmakers and Amazon Studios to reach both voters and potential voters where they are, helping to educate them on the important subject of voter suppression.

Tens of millions of Americans have already voted in the current election where we are witnessing widespread suppression tactics across many states, especially in communities of color.

From my interview with the directors:

I think what our job is as storytellers, as truth-tellers, is to not panic and to just tell everybody, it’s okay. We can vote. You know, make a plan, vote early, mail that ballot in. If you’re going in person, be prepared to wait on a long line. Take someone with you. A plan is the best antidote to chaos. And the best antidote to voter suppression is voter turnout.

Watch the movie — and make sure everyone in your life votes!

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