To my American readers or those with American friends or family, I wish you all an (early) Happy Thanksgiving on Thursday and a Native American Heritage Day on Friday. It is also Native American Heritage Month here in the U.S. For my post this holiday week, I’m analyzing a film that focuses on, like the name reveals, the soul: Disney/Pixar’s 2020 film, Soul. This animated movie features a diverse voice cast, including Jamie Foxx as Joe Gardner, Tina Fey as 22, Rachel House as Terry, Questlove as Curley, and Angela Bassett as Dorothea Williams. The film earned two Oscars, for Original Score (featuring the musical genius of Jon Batiste) and Best Animated Feature Film. This movie does not technically feature a librarian, landing it in the Class V category, but it includes a library scene as well as a different kind of archives.
Co-written and co-directed by Pete Docter (who also directed 2001’s Monsters, Inc., 2009’s Up, and 2015’s Inside Out), Soul‘s themes explore determinism, often contrasted with “free will,” and what helps shape individual personalities and characteristics. The plot focuses on Joe Gardner, a Black jazz musician and teacher who dies before his “big break” playing with jazz legend Dorothea Williams; in an effort to return to his body in time to realize his jazz-playing dreams, he mentors 22, a soul who resists every opportunity to develop a “spark” and complete the process of being born. There’s more to it than that, and here’s a trailer to provide more context:
At 27 minutes into the movie, Joe takes 22 to the Hall of Everything, in an effort to inspire 22’s “spark.” They walk into a library space — which is totally empty, by the way (sigh) — filled with the outlines of bookcases, a dropped ceiling with fluorescent lights, rolling carts, and a desk with a computer and a hanging sign labeled “Information.” My favorite detail? That the rolling carts have items in them waiting to be shelved. But with no librarian there… who’s going to shelve them?! 😉
Joe: How about a librarian? They’re cool.
22: Yes, amazing. Who wouldn’t like working at a thankless job you’re always in danger of losing due to budget cuts? Though I do like the idea of randomly shushing people.
Joe: Oh, obviously, this —
22: Shhhhhh! Oh yeah, that’s good.
This scene lasts about 10 seconds total. And what an emotional ride those 10 seconds were for me!
Although there is no actual librarian in Soul, we do get to see the archives… of souls! Terry, who is very clearly referred to in the film as the accountant, is trying to figure out why the count of souls is off.
At 18 minutes into the movie, Terry zips off to the archives of souls — which is shown as a vast universe of file cabinet drawers — and starts at the A’s to doublecheck each file and soul, in order to find the one soul unaccounted for.
The archives in Soul reminded me of the archives in Blade Runner 2049 (2017), which I analyzed in this 2018 post. The color palettes are very different, as are the angles, but the vastness of the archival spaces feel similar in scale to me. Below is a side-by-side comparison:
We check in with Terry the accountant a couple more times throughout the movie:
43:32 minutes: Terry has made it to the G’s in the archives. “You’re out there somewhere, little soul, and I’m gonna find you.”
49:49 minutes: Terry holds up Joe Gardner’s file and exclaims, “Found him! See that, everybody! Who figured out why the count’s off?!“
And speaking of souls and how we form our personalities… I don’t think it would come as a surprise to anyone that I do actually picture a card catalog drawer when I think of my own brain. When I have to access a memory or piece of knowledge, I mentally picture flipping through the card catalog of my brain, much like Terry flipping through the archives of souls. And… now we’ve come full circle. 😉
Have you watched Soul? What were your thoughts of the devastating way that 22 summed up the librarian profession? Please leave a comment and share!
“The existence of the Southside Colored Library in Lovecraft Country speaks to the segregation prevalent within the American Midwest”
One of my favorite TV series last year was Lovecraft Country (2020), a horror drama series developed by Misha Green, a Black American screenwriter, producer, and director. This Emmy-winning series, based on the 2016 novel by Matt Ruff and produced by Jordan Peele, was one of the most innovative, compelling, and groundbreaking TV shows I’ve seen in awhile. It wasn’t a perfect series — the pacing was all over the place, for one — but watching this show was an exhilarating experience! And I’m not the only one who loved it. The show earned 2 Emmys this past September: Courtney B. Vance won Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series for his role as George Freeman, and the series also won for Sound Editing. Among the show’s 16 other Emmy nominations: Outstanding Drama Series, Writing for a Drama Series (Misha Green), Lead Actress in a Drama Series (Jurnee Smollett as Letitia “Leti” Lewis), Lead Actor in a Drama Series (Jonathan Majors as Atticus “Tic” Freeman), Supporting Actress in a Drama Series (Aunjanue Ellis as Hippolyta Freeman), and Supporting Actor in a Drama Series (RIP, the iconic Michael K. Williams as Montrose Freeman).
And although it was reported in February 2021 that showrunner Misha Green was working on a second season, HBO (inexplicably) cancelled the series in early July 2021. Worst of all, they cancelled the series shortly before the show earned the 18 Emmy nominations that I mentioned above. For shame, HBO. For shame. We need innovative, creative, diverse shows like Lovecraft Country!
As detailed in a Rolling Stone article:
“The series follows Atticus Freeman (Jonathan Majors) as he joins up with his friend Letitia (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) and his Uncle George (Courtney B. Vance) to embark on a road trip across 1950s Jim Crow America in search of his missing father (Michael Kenneth Williams),” HBO said in its synopsis for the series, which premieres in August . “This begins a struggle to survive and overcome both the racist terrors of white America and the terrifying monsters that could be ripped from a Lovecraft paperback.”
Here’s a look at Episode 4, “A History of Violence,” which includes a scene in a library!
Library scene in Episode 4, “A History of Violence”
There are a LOT of different threads and characters in this series, so I’m not going to be able to summarize this episode very well. I mean, I’ve watched the entire series, and even I found the recap of this episode hard to follow! Before this episode, we had earned that Titus Braithwhite, a slave trader, had founded a secret occult society of (White, male) wizards called the Sons of Adam. In the beginning of this episode, Montrose learns where some pages from the Book of Names are located, and Tic does some research on Braithwaite and the Sons of Adam.
At 6 minutes into the show, Leti — having learned some startling news about Tic — stomps up the stairs to the Southside Colored Library to confront him. Although this part of the episode is set in Chicago, we know that this is a segregated library by the sign and name. Again, this show finds ways to reiterate that segregation and racism extended beyond the American South.
The outside of the library looks very traditional, with the red brick and white detailing. (I was not able to find out where this scene was filmed. If you know, please leave a comment and share!) Inside, the traditional feel continues, with dark wood tones, book-lined walls, and a fireplace. A portrait of Carter G. Woodson, a well-respected Black American historian, author, and journalist, watches over the library from its perch above the fireplace.
In the screenshot below, we can see a “Quiet Please” sign by the door, and we also glimpse the back and shoulders of a Black woman librarian at the central wooden counter, checking out books to a young Black man. (Both seem to be uncredited in the cast list.)
As Tic comes back to a table loaded with books, Leti confronts him — and earns the ire of a young boy (Ian McKay as “Cute Kid in Glasses”) who’s reading Journey to the Center of the Earth, a classic science fiction novel by Jules Verne.
Leti: Answer me.
Young boy: Shhhh.
Tic: Could you calm down?
The young boy shushes them!!! And the book he’s reading? It totally foreshadows the adventure we’re about to see in the rest of the episode. It’s too cute — I’m dying, y’all! 😀
Tic takes Leti to the stacks so they can talk. (We can just spy the young boy seated at the table in the background. I feel that both he and Carter G. Woodson are keeping a watchful eye on them!) Tic and Leti discuss Christina Braithwhite, a descendent of Titus Braithwaite, who is protected under a spell of invulnerability.
During their heated, yet hushed, conversation in the library stacks, Tic reveals why he’s at the library — that through research, he’s trying to figure out a way to stop Christina. Leti then stalks back to the table to look at the books that Tic has gathered.
Leti: All right. So what’s all this got to do with her? Go on, tell me.
The young boy then scrapes back his chair, stands, and throws his book down in disgust as he rolls his eyes and walks off. EPIC. This kid knows how to steal a scene. He says so much without saying a word.
Leti and Tic continue their conversation, as she picks up books and looks through them. They discuss the lost Book of Names and a vault that Titus Braithwaite kept his pages in.
Tic: If I can get my hands on those pages, I can learn the Language of Adam and start casting some spells of my own to protect us.
Leti: Okay. So where’s this vault?
Tic: I don’t know. I’ve been reading everything I can on Titus to try and find a clue. [Leti starts looking through the books on the table.] I might have to go back to Ardham.
Leti: And what? So you can excavate something out of the rubble? They teaching colored boys paleontology in the army now? You need to talk to your father.
Leti: He probably did all this research and more once he got wind of your mama’s connection.
Tic: I don’t want him involved, or you either, for that matter. [He takes the book out of her hands.] Go home.
Leti leaves, and Tic looks at the book she was holding. That’s when he spies the check-out card in the front, where “Montrose Freeman” name is written. He then checks other books, and sure enough, Montrose’s names is in those books, as well.
How does Tic react to the realization that Leti was right, and that his father, Montrose, has done all this research already?
Cute Kid in Glasses: Shhh!
I was laughing so hard, y’all! I mean, can’t a kid just read a book in peace?! I know it plays into stereotypes that libraries are quiet tombs, rather than the not-so-quiet centers of community they are in real life, but it’s. just. too. cute.
And the production design and cinematography in this show is top-notch excellent. This boy and his book, set against the backdrop of these card catalog drawers? Chef’s-kiss perfection!
This library scene ends at 9:43, so the scene lasts in total for 3 1/2 minutes. And it is an efficient 3 1/2 minutes, as they cram in a lot of exposition — and humor!
Although we only see a glimpse of the reel librarian from behind, it’s clear that this library serves the role of Information Provider, as she helps establish the library setting. The role appears to be uncredited in the cast list.
Although we don’t see this reel librarian doing much — I mean, the patrons are shushing each other! — I loved this critic’s take on this scene and the library’s collection:
In a whirlwind of world-building and backstory downloading, Tic and Leti meet up in the Southside Colored Library underneath a portrait of Carter G. Woodson to do some research on Titus Braithwaite and the Sons of Adam. I love the idea that this random Chicago library has a huge, extensive section on White Magical Racism. Look, I love libraries and librarians but I do have some questions about the idea that Tic just rolled up to the information desk and was like “Good afternoon, I’m looking for any journal articles or published works relating to a secret society of white men who are trying to destroy the Black race through time travel” and the librarian was like “Oh, that again? There’s a whole shelf dedicated to it next to the Farmer’s Almanacs.”
But, libraries are magical in their own right and Tic and Leti get the information they need.
A history of segregated libraries & what this scene reveals
Although I found this scene quite humorous — the rest of the episode gets real dark, real fast — it’s important to note the serious undercurrents this scene reveals and reiterates.
As Sabrina Reed points out:
Lovecraft Country has unrelentingly made the point that Jim Crow’s reach went further than the South and actually encompassed the Midwest and the Northeast as well. […]
The existence of the Southside Colored Library in Lovecraft Country speaks to the segregation prevalent within the American Midwest … Here, Black library patrons can access information or read at the leisure. While the building is not spacious and the collection isn’t vast — Leti makes a quick circuit of the library in mere seconds before finding Tic — the Black citizens of Chicago’s Southside are fortunate in that it they at least have a library. […]
The history of libraries is one rife with a continuous reckoning and evolution stipulated on who has access to information, who is allowed in the room, who is allowed on the stacks, and whose work is displayed, recommended, and purchased for distribution. It’s a history that moves toward increased equity even if progress is slow or hampered by old schools of thought. But, like American history overall, racism and racist practices under the guise of betterment still permeated library institutions.
A Lego Librarian + a real-life librarian together on the Reel Librarians blog. What more could you ask for?
If you’re a long-time reader of Reel Librarians (thank you!), then you will be familiar with my hunt for the Lego Librarian minifigure. I also use photos of the Lego Librarian every year for my blog anniversary posts. And because I grew my hair longer due to the pandemic and lockdowns, I decided this year to dress up as a real-life Lego Librarian! It’s SO META.
For almost a decade now, I’ve enjoyed dressing up for Halloween by putting together a costume from items already in my closet. No-cost costumes for the win! And this year may be my favorite costume yet. And I never worry about exact recreations; rather, I like to focus on capturing the overall effect and feel of a costume or character. And I definitely felt like I was channeling the Lego Librarian in this costume, with the tan pleated skirt, Fair Isle sweater, buttoned-up shirt, bright red lipstick, and tiny little smirk. (The extreme side part of the hair was the final touch that transformed this costume for me.)
And to be clear: This IS a costume for me. Both my husband and my mom gasped at how different I looked in this costume, LOL! Yes, I am a real-life librarian, and yes, these are all items from my wardrobe, but my own personal style is different and much less preppy than the Lego Librarian’s style. But I do love red lipstick! 😉
And OF COURSE I had to take photos in front of a “Little Free Library” in the neighborhood. And as my husband pointed out, this “Little Free Library” is made from a toy bookcase (or toy house?), so it fits this Lego toy theme even more. Soooooo satisfying! 😀
Although I took these photos early in order to be able to publish them on the blog in time for Halloween, I will be rewearing this costume on Halloween itself.
And here are some final photos of me and my minifig. A Lego Librarian + a real-life librarian together on the Reel Librarians blog. What more could you ask for? 😉
This is how pleased I am with my Lego Librarian costume, LOL! 😀
And if you’d like more Lego Librarian fun, please explore my prior posts about Lego Librarians:
Did I capture the Lego Librarian spirit in my Halloween costume this year? What is your Halloween costume this year? Have you ever dressed up as a reel librarian character? Please leave a comment and share!