Rating: (2.5 stars)
In a world in which Jane Goodall has, at 85, become quite the household name as a result of her pioneering work studying chimpanzees in the wild — guest-starring on “The Simpsons,” appearing on “Ellen” and other talk shows, and with a biographical exhibition in her name at the National Geographic Museum, along with numerous documentaries — it seems unfair that most people have never heard of the 87-year-old Anne Innis Dagg, a giraffe expert described in a new documentary as “the Jane Goodall of the giraffe community.”
With the commercial release of the charming and eye-opening “The Woman Who Loves Giraffes,” which previously played at the Environmental Film Festival last year, there may just be a few less of those people.
There are at least two reasons that Dagg’s name is less familiar than Goodall’s. The first, as articulated by Fred Bercovitch of the advocacy group Save the Giraffes, has to do with emotion: Everybody likes giraffes, Bercovitch says. But despite the fact that the animals are now threatened by the possibility of extinction, we don’t have our “heartstrings pulled” by the animals in the same way we do by chimps, who remind us of ourselves.
The other reason is a little more complicated.
“The Woman Who Loves Giraffes” tells two stories. The first is about Dagg’s groundbreaking 1950s field work in Africa, where she beat Goodall to the punch as the first person on the continent to study wild animals. The second story has to do with sexism in academia, which appears to be the main reason that Dagg was denied tenure at Canada’s University of Guelph in the early 1970s — ultimately derailing her career and delaying the recognition of her accomplishments, as multiple accounts in the film characterize it. (A male colleague with far fewer credentials was preferred over Dagg. The university issued a formal apology to Dagg earlier this year.)
It’s a shame, because Dagg, who makes for a charismatic and informative guide through both these tales, seems like she would have been an excellent teacher. The first story “Giraffes” tells is one of endangered animals. The second — and equally powerful one — is a narrative of not just one woman’s struggle to be taken seriously, but the struggle of all women to do so.
It’s worth being reminded that misogyny is as pernicious a force as the unchecked development that threatens the habitat of a majestic animal.
Unrated. At Landmark’s West End Cinema. Contains some upsetting images of dead giraffes and a discussion of giraffe sexuality. 83 minutes.