115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

Women Writing, and Filming, Women into History:  A Zookeeper’s Wife and Their Finest Hour and a Half/Their Finest

Mary H. Snyder, Diablo Valley College

This paper will investigate a “female gaze” that is distinct from the “male gaze” identified by Laura Mulvey in 1975, drawing from A Zookeeper’s Wife, both book and film, written and directed by women, and Their Finest Hour and a Half/Their Finest, novel/film, also written and directed by women.


In 1975, Laura Mulvey introduced the concept of the “male gaze” in film that continues to be a pervasive force in the film industry. However, women are beginning to challenge this male gaze, and write and make films from their perspective, which clearly is different from that of men. In the book, A Zookeeper’s Wife, Diane Ackerman writes in her Author’s Note about Ian and Antonina Zabinski, a couple who during World War II saved over three hundred people: “Their story has fallen between the seams of history, as radically compassionate acts sometimes do.” Ackerman writes the story of this heroic couple, her focus on the wife of this pair. The book has been adapted to film by director Nikki Caro and screenwriter Angela Workman, who keep the focus on Antonina Zabinski, the zookeeper’s wife, played by Jessica Chastain in the film. Similarly, and just as recently, the novel, Their Finest Hour and a Half, written by Lissa Davis about a woman who works as a copy writer and becomes a screenwriter for propaganda films in London during wartime in 1940, has been adapted to film by female director Lone Scherfig and screenwriter Gaby Schiappe. Rex Reed, in his review of the film for The New York Observer, writes: “The unusual theme is the role of British women in the movie industry during World War Two when most of the actors, directors and other creative craftsmen were away on the front, and propaganda films about the war effort were needed to bolster the spirits and uplift the morale in a period of crisis.” Interestingly, it took a team of women to bring this story to fruition, both in literature and film. As women filmmakers begin to become as prevalent in film as in writing, perhaps the subjects chosen will help women’s stories not only be written into history, but filmed into history as well, and by women. Thus I contend, drawing from these two projects, that women writing books/novels and making films not only see the world differently but are showcasing that world they see from their unique perspectives for others by way of their work. This “female gaze” can be experienced through both their books and films, and in examining how they display their perspectives in refreshing, unique, and also devastating ways. 

Topic Area: