By Miranda Gershoni and Jair Oballe

“My mother told me to be a lady. And for her, that meant be your own person, be independent.” Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has been paving her own path since she joined the Supreme Court as the second female justice in United States history. She has been recognized for her pioneering advocacy for gender rights and equality, and continues to push for progressive politics today. Ginsburg’s popularity in the 21st century among young people has earned her fame for her myriad contributions in government and bolstered her into a symbol of female empowerment in pop culture. In the highly-acclaimed documentary, RBG explores a life of perseverance and grace, ultimately humanizing an American hero.

As a part of the Rights! Camera! Action! film series, the Duke Human Rights Center @ the Franklin Humanities Institute screened RBG followed by a panel featuring women’s rights activist and community advocate Zion Tankard and professor of law at Duke, Carolyn McAllaster. The panel was moderated by Robin Kirk, Co-Chair of the Duke Human Rights Center and lecturer in the Department of Cultural Anthropology.

Throughout the film, Ginsburg reflected on many of the lessons her mother taught her, which greatly influenced the way she lived her life, both personally and professionally.

“Her mother’s message about being a lady isn’t just about being feminine, but being conscious of the time and tenacious regardless of that,” Tankard said. “Be a person with grace, and don’t let anger impede your conversations.”

McAllaster attended law school at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill while Ginsburg was actively fighting for women’s rights in the Supreme Court. RBG wrote the first textbook on sex discrimination cases, and McAllaster studied it while in law school.

When asked what lessons they drew from RBG’s legacy, McAllaster turned to local politics.

“Look at the Durham city council or NC legislature,” she said. “What can we do with the law here if we cannot rely on the higher courts in the land?” Tankard pointed to her shirt, which read, “WORTHY” in gold letters.

“You have to know that you are worthy of your ambitions, know that sometimes you’re the only one [woman] in a room or have a realization that things aren’t actually equal,” she said.

The Duke Human Rights Center@FHI will be screening several other films related to human rights, including The Uncondemned, which will be shown on November 13. For more details, please visit our website: