This Friday, Jessica Chastain will play the real-life woman who worked with her husband to save hundreds of displaced Jews in Nazi-occcupied Poland. The woman's name was Antonina Żabiński. The movie is called The Zookeeper's Wife, based on the Diane Ackerman book of the same name.
That's not to be confused with The Astronaut's Wife, The Time Traveler's Wife, The Preacher's Wife, or any number of films that focus the attention on a female lead while describing her in terms relative to her husband.
We get it. If you meet a woman whose husband can travel through time, you're less likely to introduce her at parties as "Clare, my artist friend." It's going to be, "Guys, meet Clare. Her husband is a freaking time-traveler. More wine?"
Still, it feels diminishing, especially when, just two months ago, Good Morning America labeled a photo of Hillary Clinton (former senator and Secretary of State, recent presidential candidate, etc.) attending Trump's inauguration as "Bill Clinton and wife." With the exception of Oscar Wilde's An Ideal Husband and the odd Lifetime Original Movie (Her Husband's Betrayal, Who Killed My Husband?), men are rarely identified by their marital status, and it's annoying.
In some cases, the "wife" reference is purposely deployed to reduce the female lead to a less powerful position. The Good Wife was a tongue-in-cheek shot at how the public perceived Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies) in the wake of her husband Peter's fall from grace. Alicia evolved from a supportive spouse waiting in the wings to a legal badass who ran for office and started her own firm, all while exploring relationships with hunky men who weren't Peter. Not such a "good wife" after all.
It's great that these stories, whether it's The Paris Wife, The Zookeeper's Wife, or The Real Housewives, are by and large about women. But we'll be more excited when the female lead is presented as her own person, and not her husband's possession. Even better: More focus on her career and ambitions. One sign of progress is the upcoming Glenn Close film The Wife, in which a woman who has spent her adult life tending to her husband's career as a Nobel Prize-winning novelist decides to leave him and live her own life.