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Producers Didn’t Think On the Basis of Sex Would Sell Unless They Made Marty Ginsburg an Unsupportive Jerk

on the basis of sex, armie hammer, felicity jones, ruth bader ginsburg

One of the very best parts of the Ruth Bader Ginsburg biopic On the Basis of Sex was the extraordinary relationship between Ruth and her husband Marty. As I mentioned in my review, if you’ve seen the Netflix documentary RBG, you know that his seemingly unending supportiveness of her career was not an invention for the movie. Their partnership was built on equality and mutual respect. And that, apparently, was something a whole lot of Hollywood producers just couldn’t wrap their minds around.

According to a New York Times article profiling the cast and creators of the film, the movie had trouble finding financial backers with a realistically depicted Martin. They found a husband that supportive to be “far-fetched.” Potential backers demanded he be rewritten to be “angrier, or less supportive,” even suggesting they write in a scene where he threatens to leave Ruth if she doesn’t drop the landmark case the film centers on.

Of course, Martin would never do such a thing. He’s the one that brought her the case in the first place, and they worked on it as partners. These producers had no problem with Ruth going to Martin’s classes for him and typing up his coursework when he was diagnosed with cancer, but they apparently couldn’t come to terms with him cooking their family dinner while she works. (Something the real Martin Ginsburg did regularly.)

According to Daniel Stiepleman, the Ginsburgs’ nephew who also wrote the script for the film, this issue “came up a lot.” He told the Times, “I remember at some point saying in a meeting, There’s a 5,000-year history of narrative, of men coming home from battle, and their wives patch them up and boost their egos and send them back out to fight again. You write one supportive husband, and everyone’s like, such a creature could never exist!”

Fortunately, Stiepleman didn’t cave, and the movie found funding from backers who had enough of an imagination to not see a supportive husband as a unicorn. The whole world was burying RBG in sexism, we didn’t need it coming from her partner, too.

Women may get stuck playing supportive wives and girlfriends far too often, but Armie Hammer–who played Marty to perfection–had some pretty fantastic things to say about non-toxic masculinity and what it means for a man to get the chance to play this kind of role.

“I’m sure that women feel like they’ve been stuck in these supportive roles for a long time, but for me, to get to play something like this was amazing, because it’s fair,” he said. “And I think that there is a lot to be gained from seeing that a man can be an even better and stronger man, while still being an incredibly supportive husband and a buttress for his wife. It didn’t make him any less of a man. If anything, it made him more.”

According to Ruth and Martin’s daughter, “My mother strongly believes there won’t be true equality until men take full participation in child care and other household tasks.” What a disservice it would have been to weaken their relationship in such a cliched and destructive way.

(image: Focus Features)

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Vivian Kane (she/her) has a lot of opinions about a lot of things. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri with her husband Brock Wilbur and too many cats.