The star of one of the year’s biggest documentaries is a night owl, not an early riser, and probably had other things on her mind on Tuesday morning, than her Oscar chances. So it fell to Betsy West and Julie Cohen, the directors of the documentary “RBG,” to tell Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg that the film was nominated.
They called her at her Watergate apartment, where she is working from home. Justice Ginsburg congratulated the filmmakers and said the academy acknowledgment was “eminently well-deserved,” they reported, barely suppressing their glee at getting to share the news with her.
“She sounded good, strong,” West said, as the justice recovers from her recent cancer surgery. “She was very happy.” And she has been following the blockbuster success of the film, so she couldn’t have been too surprised. (As a crowd-pleaser, it may even be the front-runner in the documentary category.)
[Read more about the nominations | Check out the full list of nominees | See the snubs and surprises.]
The directors and their spouses watched the nomination announcement together, at West’s Manhattan apartment, where her husband, Oren Jacoby, an Oscar-nominated filmmaker in his own right, made them all scrambled eggs for breakfast — a page from the supportive partner playbook of Martin Ginsburg, the justice’s late husband and the cook in their family. “Just like Marty Ginsburg, these are guys who had their own amazing careers,” said Cohen, whose husband, Paul Barrett, is a law professor and journalist. And in the last year, “they have been just supporting our journey.”
As they geared up for production, the filmmakers briefly worried that “Notorious RBG” mania would wane by the time their film hit screens. They couldn’t have been more wrong. And the continued surge in interest in the justice’s life — she’s also the subject of the current feature “On the Basis of Sex” — has made the often grueling festival-and-awards circuit more rewarding. Viewers from teenagers to grandmothers, in blue states and red — and sometimes, progressive teens with their red state grandmas — have found something to discuss. “Women of past generations, no matter where they are on political spectrum, faced similar hurdles,” Cohen noted. Many women can identify with the obstacles Justice Ginsburg encountered, “and admire how she managed to push them away at every turn.”
“It has not been tiring to talk about the film,” West added. “It has been energizing to be part of this conversation about Justice Ginsburg, and let her life story represent both what she did fighting for equality and justice and what she continues to do now. It seems that her story just gets more relevant every day.”
By design, the film’s top crew, from the cinematographer to the composer, were all women. (The movie is also up for the best song Oscar, for the anthem “I’ll Fight,” by Diane Warren, now a 10-time nominee.)
The filmmakers did not want to speculate about whether Justice Ginsburg would attend the ceremony. “Obviously her priority is her work on the court,” West said. “We didn’t raise it with her.”
If she did make it, the selfie line for her would no doubt hold up the show. She might as well just host it.
“She’s known her for pithy writing style,” Cohen said. “So it could be a great match.”
Cohen was, she quickly added, only joking. Still, a viewer can dream.