Have you heard of Anne Innis Dagg? The answer is probably not, and people around the world should know her. Writer/director Alison Reid’s The Woman Who Loves Giraffes shines a spotlight on Dagg, a Canadian who traveled to Africa alone in the 50s to do some of the first studying ever of animals in their own habitat. The researcher and, as the film’s title suggests, lover of all things giraffe-related, has had the tenacity and fearlessness to fight misogyny not only in academia, but the world at large, for her entire life. She wrote or co-wrote books with titles like The 50% Solution: Why Should Women Pay for Men’s Culture and The Feminine Gaze: A Canadian Compendium of Non-Fiction Women Authors and Their Books, 1836-1945, as well as what is considered the bible for giraffe researchers, The Giraffe: It’s Biology, Behavior, and Ecology. That’s right, she uses the term Feminine Gaze in a book about female writers. At the very least, female journalists should find out more about her and her life.
That a woman this important has been all but lost to history relates, in part, to how she was treated by narrow-minded colleagues in the hierarchy of Canadian universities, and in part to the sexism of the time. Reid’s film shows, however, Dagg’s more recent embrace from the research community, and it’s a joy to see. The writer/director also captures Dagg, a woman unafraid to show an entire universe of emotions, at her most honest. In one scene in particular, she relates how she was rejected for tenure after had worked harder and had more published papers in prestigious journals than nearly anyone in her field at the time. Through tears, she says, “I’ve done everything you needed to be good and they just said, no. You’re a woman.”
Though there are difficult scenes towards the end of the film relating to the population crash of the species, there is much joy to be had in the experience of watching The Woman Who Loves Giraffes, and it’s a great first documentary to see in 2020 for those who seek it out.
4 out of 5 stars