In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Animals in Film and Media

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Anthologies
  • Journals
  • History of Zoos, Circuses, and Related Entertainment Forms
  • Art and Literature
  • Ethics
  • Feminist and Queer Theory
  • Critical Theory

Cinema and Media Studies Animals in Film and Media
Jennifer Peterson
  • LAST REVIEWED: 15 August 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 October 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0044


In the thirty-six years that have passed since John Berger wrote his landmark essay, “Why Look at Animals?” in 1977, humanities scholars have been increasingly turning their attention to animals. This shifting critical perspective, variously dubbed the “animal turn,” “the nonhuman turn,” or simply “posthumanism,” has been revitalizing critical analysis across a wide range of disciplines (such as literature, visual art, philosophy, history, and more). Cinema and media studies has been somewhat slow to contribute to critical animal studies, perhaps because its focus on establishing itself as a serious discipline in earlier decades tended to encourage different areas of research. Lately, however, cinema and media studies scholars have been increasingly engaging with animals and questions of the nonhuman. While scholars working on human-animal relations embody a number of different perspectives, much of this work is grounded in an ecological sensibility and an ethical basis of animal advocacy. Many animal studies scholars are deeply committed to critical theory, engaging with questions that grow out of deconstruction, postcolonial theory, feminist theory, and queer theory. Generally speaking, animal studies stands as a challenge the anthropocentrism of the humanities. A number of animal studies working groups have formed as research clusters at various institutions worldwide, and H-Animal, the online forum for animal studies scholarship, has proven an important resource for this interdisciplinary and emerging field. Because publications devoted to animals in film and media are only beginning to appear, and because cinema studies is itself profoundly interdisciplinary, this bibliography aims wide, presenting not just animal studies scholarship in film, television, and new media but in related fields such as literature, visual art, and other related entertainment forms such as zoos and circuses, along with ethics, feminist and queer theory, and critical theory. It must be emphasized that this bibliography does not cover all work being done in the vein of animal studies (that would be a much longer list), nor does it touch upon the substantial body of scientific work on animal behavior by cognitive ethologists such as Marc Bekoff. Rather, this bibliography provides an introductory survey of key animal studies writing specifically of interest to the cinema and media studies scholar. New work is appearing all the time, but this bibliography is current as of spring 2013.

General Overviews

The overviews listed here indicate the wide range of arts and humanities materials animal studies scholars have been engaging with (literature, photography, film, art, new media), as well as the range of methodological approaches represented in the field. One strand of foundational animal studies texts (such as Berger 1991 and Baker 2001) emerged out of semiotics and post-structuralism; another important strand of animal studies discourse emerged out of feminism (which is covered in a section below: see Feminist and Queer Theory). Much animal studies scholarship has been inspired by animal rights activism and ecological resistance movements, and Best and Nocella 2006 is included here to represent a variety of issues from the radical environmentalist perspective. Other overviews (Fudge 2002, Molloy 2011) have engaged with questions of animal ethics as well as the philosophical critique of humanism and anthropocentrism which often goes by the name of posthumanism. DeMello 2012 is a useful human-animal studies textbook. Also included here are two very helpful recent works (an article and a book) that survey the rising tide of animal studies in the humanities (Wolfe 2009, Weil 2012).

  • Baker, Steve. Picturing the Beast: Animals, Identity, and Representation. Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2001.

    First published in 1993, this volume focuses broadly on what animals signify in culture. Using a semiotics methodology, Baker approaches subjects such as animals as nationalist symbols in politics, war, and sports, Rupert Bear, Art Spiegelman’s Maus, and animal rights imagery. The 2001 edition contains a new introduction.

  • Berger, John. “Why Look at Animals?” In About Looking. By John Berger, 3–28. New York: Vintage, 1991.

    Written in 1977, this is one of the earliest animal studies essays, and essential reading for undergraduates. Berger makes the now-familiar argument that animals have become signs of themselves (as toys, in zoos, as pets) as they have disappeared from everyday life in modernity.

  • Best, Steven, and Anthony J. Nocella II, eds. Igniting a Revolution: Voices in Defense of the Earth. Oakland, CA: AK Press, 2006.

    This wide-ranging anthology contains articles by over forty different contributors on topics such as the history of revolutionary environmentalism, principles of direct action, alliance politics, and critiques of consumption and of civilization. While not engaging specifically with film and media, it provides a variety of perspectives on radical environmentalist values, approaches, and practices.

  • DeMello, Margo. Animals and Society: An Introduction to Human-Animal Studies. New York: Columbia University Press, 2012.

    This human-animal studies textbook offers a comprehensive introduction to the field, and will be useful for animal studies courses in a variety of disciplines. Twenty chapters cover topics such as wildlife, domestication, meat, pets, sports, human-animal borders, and the moral status of animals; there is one chapter on animals in literature in film.

  • Fudge, Erica. Animal. London: Reaktion, 2002.

    This overview of animal studies topics considers animal ethics debates, vegetarianism, the use of fur and fake fur in fashion, animals in science experimentation, animal communication, and animal intelligence. Contains some discussion of cinema, mostly the Lassie films from the 1940s and 50s, Old Yeller (1957), and Babe (1995).

  • Molloy, Claire. Popular Media and Animals. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.

    DOI: 10.1057/9780230306240

    Examines the construction of animals in popular media including television, film, print, video games, and advertising. Addresses topics including gender and the “feminization of sentiment” as a strategy of discrediting animal activism; also includes one of the only systematic analyses published thus far on the phenomenon of animal stardom.

  • Weil, Kari. Thinking Animals: Why Animal Studies Now? New York: Columbia University Press, 2012.

    Analyzes the emergence of animal studies in literary and critical theory, from the founding of the Great Ape Project, which sought to extend human rights to apes, to the critique of that approach mounted by posthumanism, which argues that “human” qualities should not be the basis for granting rights. Includes discussions of pet-keeping, animal death, ethics, gender, and race.

  • Wolfe, Cary. “Human, All too Human: ‘Animal Studies’ and the Humanities.” PMLA 124.2 (March 2009): 564–575.

    DOI: 10.1632/pmla.2009.124.2.564

    Written by a leading figure in the field of animal studies, this article surveys the vast breadth and depth of writing about animals in the humanities, and indicates some of the challenges of this growing field, which is characterized by an abundance of research and writing in many different disciplines.

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