Behind the scenes with the directors of the hit new Ruth Bader Ginsburg doc 'RBG'

The successful film about the Supreme Court justice is directed by Julie Cohen and former "Nightline" producer Betsy West.
6:53 | 06/20/18

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Transcript for Behind the scenes with the directors of the hit new Ruth Bader Ginsburg doc 'RBG'
Reporter: She's a force to be reckoned with. All I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks. Reporter: Ruth Bader Ginsburg, barely 5 feet tall, a liberal giant on the supreme court. Achieving rock star status at 85 with her tough workouts. 25, 24, 23 -- Reporter: And even tougher dissents. Earning her the hip-hop-inspired nickname the notorious rbg. I am 85 years old and everyone wants to take a picture of me. Reporter: Now the star of a new documentary "Rbg." In a lot of ways her life story is the pinnacle. Reporter: The film produced by Betsy west is a bona fide hit, grossing over $10 million so far, nearly unheard of for a documentary. This is such the unexpected hit. Why do you think it is such a smash? During one of our interviews we talked to Gloria steinem. She said she's the closest thing to a superhero that I know. And, you know, it's turned out to be true at the box office. Many varieties. Reporter: Her collars becoming her calling card. This is what I use for announcing majority opinion. Reporter: Framing the face of a political movement, inspiring legions of young feminists. You just got gins-burned sclamd. Reporter: Immortalized on "Snl." She was a trail blazing lawyer in the '70s arguing for gender equality before the bench long before she sat on it. Men and women are persons of equal dignity and they should count equally before the law. You won't settle for putting Susan B. Anthony on the new dollar? When they would say things like this, how did you respond? Well, never in anger, as my mother told me. That would have been self-defeating. Always as an opportunity to teach. I did see myself as kind of a kindergarten teacher in those days. Because the judges didn't think sex discrimination existed. One of the things I tried to plant in their minds was, think about how you would like the world to be for your daughters and granddaughters. The gender line helps to keep women not on a pedestal, but in a cage. I was working in the 1970s. I didn't really understand the impacthat Ruth Bader Ginsburg's work was having on women. The kind of equality that we take for granted now is as a result of the work that she did. She had this incredible history as a civil rights litigator. She was viewed in many ways as the Thurgood Marshall of sex equality. Reporter: She began law school at Harvard where she juggled classes along with motherhood. The late 1950s, she was one of nine women in a class of 500. Reporter: Finishing her law degree at Columbia in New York City. She'd left hand on "The law review" at Harvard, at Columbia, tied for first in her class. The big New York City law firms weren't hiring women as lawyers. They were hiring them as secretaries, receptionists. She didn't get a single job offer at a major law firm. I think a lot of younger women don't really understand what women of Ruth Bader Ginsburg's generation were up against. Reporter: After a personal appeal by one of her Columbia professors, Ginsburg was hired by a New York law firm with her husband's steadfast support. She was smart enough to marry a feminist. Absolutely. It wasn't easy to find feminists in the 1950s. Reporter: After a stint as an appeals court judge in 1993 -- I am proud to nominate for associate justice of the supreme court judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg -- Reporter: That nomination by president Clinton may not have happened without lobbying by her husband Marty. He felt she was brilliant and she deserved it and it would be good for the country. I am grateful beyond measure -- Reporter: She didn't shy away from feminism. In my lifetime, I expect to see three, four, perhaps even more women on the high court bench. Reporter: Discussing controversial subjects like abortion rights. This is something central to a woman's life, to her dignity. It's a decision that she must make. Reporter: She was confirmed by the senate 96-3. The second woman ever on the supreme court. Quickly making her mark on landmark cases. History made at the Virginia military institute. For the first time in the school's 158-year history, women are in the freshman class. 30 of them, to be exact. The supreme court forced vmi to admit the women or lose its state funding. She wrote the majority opinion for it in 1996 in the Virginia military institute case, that basically sat as a matter of law, discriminating against women should be presumed unconstitutional. It's justice Ginsburg writing an opinion that builds on the foundations that lawyer Ruth Bader Ginsburg essentially helped to lay. It is most appropriate we welcome today a member of our nation's highest court, justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Welcome to the Virginia military institute. Vmi fought very hard to keep women out. I know that there were some people who did not react well to the change. And my response to this was, wait and see. You will be proud of the women who become graduates. Reporter: Her impact on the bench has been significant. But it's not just her opinions that are notable. Justice Ginsburg is known for reaching across the aisle. One of her best friends? The late archconservative Justin Antonin Scalia. They both loved opera. Justice Scalia was a very funny man. He really cracked her up. Reporter: Her tenure on the bench not without controversy. Breaking tradition for a justice, Bader Ginsburg spoke out against then-candidate Donald Trump, including to the "New York Times." I think there's pretty broad agreement that justice Ginsburg made comments that were ill advised about then-candidate trump. Midst of this controversial presidency, even though she's 85, she's not showing any signs of showing down. She announced her clerks for next year. And her clerks for the year after. Maybe she's getting tired of people asking her, when are you going to resign, when are you going to resign? Her answer is, she'll keep doing the job until she feels she can't do it full steam. Next, this couple taking

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