Geek Review: On the Basis of Sex

If it pleases the court, It is our proposal that On the Basis of Sex is an honourable attempt at retelling the rich origins and legacy of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

For those not versed in American politics and judiciary, Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Felicity Jones) is currently an associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. Now 85, the movie focuses on Ginsburg’s early career, her struggles as a young mother, wife and a Harvard Law School student, before delving into her first court case that set the ball rolling for Ginsburg’s long and successful career.

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The opening of the film, set in 1956, shows Ginsburg ascending the steps of Harvard Law School, surrounded by men in clean-cut suits. She’s one of the nine women accepted into the university – at the time, a great achievement seeing how it was only the sixth year Harvard Law permitted female students.

The movie follows Ginsburg along her university life and her battle against unequal treatment, alongside misogynistic lecturers and peers. Despite finishing first in her class, Ginsburg still struggled to gain the respect of the dean, and a decade later, the respect of her practising tax lawyer cum husband’s colleagues and law firms around New York City.

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Being both passionate and well-versed in the topic of gender-discrimination, Ginsburg became a professor and taught classes at Rutgers University Law School. It was not the career that she dreamt of, but Ginsburg loved doing it albeit not feeling fully content as shown through the arguments she’s had with her partner regarding their differing career paths.

When her husband, Martin Ginsburg (Armie Hammer), presented her the now-famous Moritz vs. Commissioner of Internal Revenue case, Ginsburg jumped right on it. The Moritz vs. Commissioner of Internal Revenue was Ginsburg’s first legal argument, and soon established the precedent for future cases of gender discrimination that made the petite lady a pop culture icon as well as the liberal face of the Supreme Court of the United States of America.

The issue at hand? Charles E. Moritz hired a nurse to care for his aging mother while he continued working, but was denied a tax deduction for the nursing care. At that time, the Tax Court stated that he was not entitled to a deduction for expenses because he was a single man who has never married, whereas the deduction was limited to a woman, a widower or divorce, or a husband whose wife is incapacitated or institutionalized. Believing that this was based on the assumption that men will work to provide for the family, and women will stay home and take care of the husband and children, Ginsburg fought for the fact that men were unfairly discriminated against on the basis of sex.

Similar to her struggles in University, Ginsburg’s journey on fighting for the innocence of Moritz in the Moritz vs. Commissioner of Internal Revenue case was no easy feat, but was enough in keeping the audience interested in what the feisty petite professor was going to do next.

Sitting in one’s seat watching the discrimination that not only Ruth Ginsburg, but every other American Woman had to go through in the past, wasn’t a walk in the park. But with an amazing cast consisting of Jones, Hammer, Kathy Bates and Sam Waterson, and the conventional connect-the-dots approach when it comes to autobiographical films like such, The Basis of Sex is an easy and enjoyable film to watch for audiences who idolise Ruth Ginsburg, or are passionate in the justice for all genders.

What the movie lacked, however, was a focus on Ruth Ginsburg’s background apart from who she was as a wife and mother. It would have been more intriguing getting to know how and why Ginsburg is who and what she is. What pushed her to pursue law? How did she become so passionate about fighting for the justice of the discriminated and oppressed? The Basis of Sex had jumped straight into Ginsburg’s marriage and student life and assumes that the audience is aware of who she is.

Unless one has background knowledge on American history and is aware of the people that rose to power and fame along it, The Basis of Sex may not seem like much of an ode to the adored and respected associate justice of the Supreme Court, but instead, a brief history lesson through the eyes of a young woman aspiring to be a lawyer. Then again, one might argue for someone with a life that is as interesting and successful as Ruth Ginsburg, deserves more than a movie, but a series instead.

And with that, we close our case.



The movie only serves as a brief introduction to the Notorious RBG, a larger than life individual who has helped shaped the American Justice System, and there’s plenty more to learn about her.

  • Story - 7/10
  • Direction - 7/10
  • Characterisation - 6/10
  • Geek Satisfaction - 6/10
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