The Documentary 'Jane' About Jane Goodall Will Make You Respect The Legendary Scientist Even More
The first few months of 2017 have brought some exciting and inspiring female scientists to the big screen. Black Panther's Shuri proved herself the brightest mind of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, while Ava DuVernay's A Wrinkle in Time starred Meg, a teen girl whose intelligence and skills lead her to save her scientist father and find herself in return. And on March 16, a Tomb Raider reboot will bring back Lara Croft, an archeologist who kicks butt, literally. It's amazing to see women in science taking the lead in fictional films, but if you're craving something a little more real, the new documentary Jane may be just the ticket.
Directed by Brett Morgen, Jane, now streaming on Amazon and Vudu and available on The National Geographic Channel, tells the story of Jane Goodall, the world-renowned primatologist and anthropologist whose ongoing, 55-year study of chimpanzees has basically shaped the entire subject. Drawing from over 100 hours of footage that was thought to have been lost, the doc explores Goodall's early life and background before diving into her groundbreaking work in Africa. Though there have been other documentaries made about Goodall, the scientist herself says Jane feels different. "It’s less contrived than the other documentaries, partly because it’s my own voice," she told Entertainment Weekly.
When Goodall first stepped foot in the jungles of Gombe National Park in Tanzania all those years ago, she was a secretary with no formal scientific training or a degree. But there was little information known about chimpanzees in the wild, either, so essentially both Goodall and the chimps were introducing themselves to the world. As the doc explains, it was the scientist's monumental patience that made Louis Leakey offer her the job of researcher on his project.
One of Goodall's most revolutionary discoveries was that, much like humans, chimpanzees make and use tools. It was long thought by the prominent male scientists of the day, that humans were the only creatures capable of rational thought or of tool use. So when Goodall sent word back to England that the chimps she was observing were stripping the leaves off of plants to use sticks to insert into holes and catch insects to eat, she blew the lid off of centuries of supposed scientific fact. Not bad for a 26-year-old woman with no formal training, right?
Of course, it was due to her gender and her lack of training that Goodall's discoveries were doubted, questioned, and occasionally rejected. To challenge the male-dominated consensus in the scientific world, especially in the 1960s when women's lib was still a young idea, is just about as feminist and female-empowering as you can get. "I was typically a man, I went on adventures. At the time I wanted to do things that men did and women didn't," Goodall recalls in the doc. She had no desire to "fit in" with the scientific community, preferring to be a female scientific rebel instead.
Often times, great women like Goodall come to be that way because of the support of other great women before them. Goodall credits her mother (who, she explains, accompanied her on her first visits to Africa, lest her trips be considered "inappropriate") with encouraging her love of nature, never stifling her desire to work with animals, and for always believing in her abilities. "It was my mother who really built up my self esteem," recalls Goodall.
As a result, the scientist also embraced her own role as a mother during the years she lived in Africa. After falling in love with her photographer, Hugo, Goodall married and had a son. And she says in the doc that she learned most about motherhood from her own supportive mom, as well as by watching one of her beloved chimps, Flo, raise her five babies.
As an iconic scientist, Goodall will be studied for generations to come, but her story becomes even better when you learn that she herself was encouraged and supported by the other female figures of her life. And as today's young women across the world search for their scientific idols, Jane presents a real-life version of the many female superheroes and science heroines we're now seeing so often in on-screen blockbusters.