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With ‘RBG’ and ‘Vice,’ Ginsburg and Cheney are officially Oscar bait

Cinematic stories of SCOTUS justice, ex-veep make case that politics does not always have to be un-entertaining

With the Oscar nod for "RBG," the pop culture status of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg seems set. (CQ Roll Call file photo)
With the Oscar nod for "RBG," the pop culture status of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg seems set. (CQ Roll Call file photo)

Academy Award nominations now in hand, the movies “RBG” and “Vice” provide some faint hope that political stories coming out of Washington aren’t all a drag. 

Early on Day 32 of the shutdown, with seemingly no end in sight to that standoff, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced its slate of 2019 nominations. Among them were eight, including Best Picture, for the somewhat experimental studio biopic about former Vice President Dick Cheney “Vice,” and two for a documentary feature on Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, “RBG.”

It was an interesting bit of symmetry: a fictionalized account of the conservative foreign policy hawk Cheney, backed by the star power of writer/director Adam McKay of “Anchorman” fame and A-list actors like Christian Bale, Sam Rockwell and Amy Adams, and a nonfiction account of the groundbreaking but only recently pop-culture-ratified liberal icon Ginsburg. 

UNITED STATES - DECEMBER 03: Former Vice President Dick Cheney makes remarks during a bust unveiling ceremony for him in the Capitol Visitor Center's Emancipation Hall, December 3, 2015. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Former Vice President Dick Cheney was played by Christian Bale in the movie “Vice,” which hauled in eight Academy Award nominations. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

“RBG” filmmakers Betsy Cohen and Julie West spoke to Roll Call’s Political Theater podcast when the film was released last year, discussing how they used Ginsburg’s late-in-life “Notorious RBG” identity as a hook to delve into her significant accomplishments in the public realm on civil rights. 

“We understood that there was so much more to her story than the ‘Notorious RBG,’ but it gave us a way into the story,” Cohen said then. 

It’s a testament to the diverse ways cinematic stories can break through. The high-profile “Vice” has a cast filled with former superheroes and Oscar winners (Bale played Batman for three movies, after all, in addition to winning Best Supporting Actor for “The Fighter”). Meanwhile, the documentary version of Ginsburg shut out the fictional movie version of her story, also released last year, “On the Basis of Sex,” which was buoyed by actors Felicity Jones and Armie Hammer.