Sandra Lee on Her New RBG Documentary Ruth: Justice Ginsburg in Her Own Words

Samantha Hunter
·4 min read
Photo credit: Ron Sachs
Photo credit: Ron Sachs

From Town & Country

March is here, and so is Women’s History Month. Arguably, no celebration of the achievements women have made over the course of American history would be complete without taking time to recognize the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who made history and changed the lives of women in America forever by successfully arguing six women’s rights cases in front of the Supreme Court before being appointed as its 107th justice, just the second woman in history to hold such a high honor.

“Service is universal,” says actress, author, philanthropist and activist Sandra Lee, a producer on Ruth: In Her Own Words, a documentary about Ginsburg using archival footage in addition to new interviews premiering March 1 on Starz. It was in 2015, when Lee was diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer, that she decided to document her treatment and recovery in a documentary, RX: Early Detection. During a visit to the Sundance Film Festival, Lee met Ginsburg and the seeds for her second documentary project were planted.

T&C spoke with Lee about her involvement with the project, her memories of Ginsburg, and the significance of her work and her legacy.

What was the genesis of this project for you?

Freida Mock, who is the director, writer, and producer—and really the brain—behind our film, wanted to look at Ruth Bader Ginsburg from a totally different lens. I'm a student of biographies; I think that it's so important to tell someone's story. But [this film is] different than anything else out there right now, because this is Ruth in her own words. It's Ruth in her own voice, it's Ruth in the way she wants to communicate what was important to her. I think it's important for women to study other women's lives and see examples who have made an impact.

Photo credit: Dia Dipasupil - Getty Images
Photo credit: Dia Dipasupil - Getty Images

When you see the scope of this woman's life put together in this manner, you see how she actually empowered women, for generations to come.

And she didn't have to bully or beat anybody down to do it. She was a soft-spoken, smart, thoughtful, patient personality. That she got so far ahead and got so much accomplished in that period of time is unbelievable.

Was there anything you learned about Ginsburg in the making of this project that surprised you?

What touched me the most were her forethought and her compassion. She was very obviously compassionate about the subject and the subjects that were attached to the subject matter. I also think that a lot of people don't realize how funny she was. The film also made me think about—by way of Ruth’s example—what we are contributing to the next generation. And when it came to this film, when we were putting together our team, the executive team, had a discussion about who is going to carry this film, this message, and this legacy forward. So, we brought in two very young executive producers who are tasked with and are thrilled to have the responsibility of taking this forward for us as we all mature, which we all will.

Photo credit: Dirck Halstead - Getty Images
Photo credit: Dirck Halstead - Getty Images

What was that experience like meeting Ginsburg herself?

She was a very sweet woman with so much humility and grace, I have the most amazing the video of her speaking to the crowd on my phone. And, of course, I was much more interested in making sure that Kara [Cuomo] and my niece got a picture with her than I was with getting one myself. So unfortunately I don't have that picture, but the girls do.

Are you looking to produce and be involved in more projects down the line that have a similar theme?

RX Early Detection was a documentary that I didn't even know I was going to create when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was brought to my attention that we should film it so I had it to remember what was happening, and then maybe at some point we may want to consider sharing it. That was a very intense thing for me to film, because it’s everything—you even see the operation. So that was a film that I really didn't have the forethought or intention to create. When this project came up, of course I said yes. I mean, how can you not say yes to a film about Ruth Bader Ginsburg told completely in her own voice? So, yes, I'd be open to doing more films. Right now, I'm working on a couple of more projects, some in food, some in the reality space. I'm really expanding to cover all the categories of storytelling.

What do you want people to take away from this film after having viewed it?

The takeaway is that nothing is impossible. Everything is possible, no matter who you are, where you come from, what your circumstance was. And by the way, if it weren't for our foremothers, there would be no forefathers. So there!

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