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Ruth is airing on Starz: "It's a reference and source of inspiration," Lee tells PEOPLE

By Morgan Smith
March 01, 2021 09:14 AM
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Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Sandra Lee
Ruth Bader Ginsburg (left) and Sandra Lee
| Credit: Mark Wilson/Getty; David Livingston/Getty

Ruth, a new documentary about the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, shines an intimate light on the trailblazing legal icon using never-before-seen footage of Ginsburg and conversations with students, colleagues and family. 

The documentary, which will premiere on Starz on Monday night, is a collaboration between Oscar-winning director Freida Lee Mock and a roster of well-known executive producers including Emmy nominee Geralyn Dreyfous, celebrity chef and author Sandra Lee, philanthropist and two-time Emmy nominee Regina K. Scully, activist and philanthropist Barbara Dobkin and Danielle Summer Mark.

"This is a documentary that will live throughout history and I believe to be a very relevant and an important go-to for generations to come … it's a reference and source of inspiration," Lee, 54, tells PEOPLE.

As for why she wanted to get involved in the project, Lee says: "I am a student of biographies and have been watching studying them since my early 20s … everyone from Sam Walton to Steve Jobs. I think it's imperative that we study the lives that have had a great impact on our history and take from them the lessons that we each need to learn and apply them to our own lives, and in our own communities, for the greater good."

Ruth takes a different approach than 2018's documentary RBG and other films about Ginsburg's life as it mixes archival footage, animation and new interviews to underscore the late justice's legacy and fight for gender equality both in and out of the courtroom. 

New Documentary Ruth Shows Unseen Footage of RBG's Life
Credit: Courtesy Sandra Lee and Ruth documentary

In September, Ginsburg died at her home in Washington, D.C., due to complications of metastatic cancer. She was 87.

The justice, who served on the court for more than 27 years since President Bill Clinton appointed her in 1993, led the liberal wing's four members at the time of her death.

The second woman appointed to the Supreme Court, Ginsburg had built a legal reputation as a champion of rights for women when she argued and won pioneering sex-discrimination cases before the Supreme Court in the 1970s.

Once on the highest court, she wrote the 1996 opinion for the gender discrimination case United States v. Virginia that the all-male Virginia Military Institute must allow women.

Working on Ruth reminded Lee of Ginsburg's "empathy, humility and joy," Lee says — "but what was so unexpected was [learning about] her incredible sense of humor, selflessness and her softness … she proves that you can be strong and effective without being antagonistic or hostile."

New Documentary Ruth Shows Unseen Footage of RBG's Life
Credit: Courtesy Sandra Lee and Ruth documentary

In one clip from Ruth, Ginsburg lists the reasons why she had immense trouble finding work at New York law firms in the 1960s, despite graduating from Columbia Law School at the top of her class.

"In those days I had three strikes against me: one is I was Jewish, another, I was a woman, and then the one that I think really did me in was I had a 4-year-old daughter," she says. 

While diminutive and soft-spoken, Ginsburg's fiery dissent from the court's 2013 decision to weaken the landmark Voting Rights Act sparked her ascent to pop-star status, earning her the nickname "Notorious R.B.G." (a riff on the late rapper Notorious B.I.G.) as well as viral memes and even infant Halloween costumes

"I believe in inspiring the next generation to do as much as they can with their lives," Lee says. "To show and share how much of an impact one person can make is incredibly important and empowering."

Ruth will air Monday (9 p.m. ET) on Starz and will be released on-demand on March 9.