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DG Martin: Justice Ruth Ginsberg is more feisty than frail

Writer

D.G. Martin

“I ask no favor for my sex. All I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks,” U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg told me the other day in Durham.

The 85-year-old justice had lots to say about her personal struggles as law student, young lawyer looking for work, advocate for women’s rights as a crusading attorney, and judge and justice.

In dealing with her fellow judges, “I did see myself as kind of a kindergarten teacher in those days,” she explained, “because the judges didn’t think sex discrimination existed.”

Before spending my time with Ginsburg, I confess that I thought of her as a frail and aging woman who slept during the President’s state of the union messages and whose time on the Supreme Court could probably be measured in weeks and months.

Instead, I learned, she is a weight-lifting athlete who has beaten two serious cancers and is in better shape than many who are years younger.

Before I go further, let me confess that I did not get to meet Ginsburg face-to-face. I got to know her through the documentary film, “RBG.” It was shown last week to a capacity crowd at downtown Durham’s Full Frame Documentary Film Festival.

Many North Carolinians know about film festivals at places such as Sundance and Cannes and wish they could crash those scenes. Arguably though, just as good and just as important is Full Frame. Every year in early April it presents more than 100 films over a four-day weekend.

Full Frame has gained national recognition for the quality of its offerings and the smooth, customer-friendly atmosphere. Hundreds of volunteers hustle to help every visitor find the way to the next film showing. Full Frame (www.fullframefest.org) should be on every North Carolina film lover’s bucket list.

In “RBG,” Ginsburg related how hard it had been to be one of the few women entering Harvard Law School in 1954. A professor chided her for taking the place that could have gone to a man. At the same time she was falling in love with another law student, whom she later married, and who actively supported her legal work on behalf of women’s rights. Later, though deeply in love with her husband, she took her male judicial colleagues to “kindergarten” on women’s rights.

“RBG” will be in theaters next month. See the trailer.

Thanks to Full Frame and the film “Three Identical Strangers,” I also got to meet David Kellman, Bobby Shafran and Eddie Galland. These men were identical triplets separated at their birth in 1961 and raised in different homes. They did not know of the others’ existence until they were 19 years old. When they first met, they were stunned that they were so much alike, in looks, interests, tastes, movements and many other ways. They smoked the same brand of cigarettes. They liked the same kinds of foods. All this was notwithstanding the fact that they were raised in different homes by very different parents. After appearing on national television and film, they continued to be inseparable, living together, playing together and enjoying their fame.

Too happy to be real, the story of the triplets’ lives ended on a dark side. They learned their separation at birth had been a part of a study to examine the question of the relative importance of heredity against the influence of the family and home environment. Their sad experiences raised the question of when it may or may not be appropriate to alter people’s lives in order to study the impact of the change.

These two films were life-changing experiences.

Put Full Frame on your bucket list.

D.G. Martin hosts “North Carolina Bookwatch,” which airs Sundays at 11 a.m. and Thursdays at 5 p.m. on UNC-TV.  This Today’s guests are Alex Harris & Margaret Sartor, authors of “Dream of a House” hosted by Randall Kenan.

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