First impressions: 18 thoughts and questions I had about Wong while watching ‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ (2022)

It’s the WongVerse, and we’re just living in it.

This is another post in my “first impressions” series of posts, which focus on current films that include reel librarians and/or library or archives scenes that I have watched in theaters. The resulting “first impressions” posts are necessarily less detailed, as I don’t have the luxury of rewatching scenes and taking notes in the movie theater, but I do take notes as soon as I can after watching the film.

This spring, I was able to watch Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness at our nearby drive-in theater, Rodeo Drive-In. Sorry it has taken me so long to get this post together; real-life complications got in the way, y’all, and as my husband advised, “Multiverse of mind, embrace the chaos.” 😉 And it is interesting to note that it is actually good timing this “first impressions” post got delayed because this movie will soon be available for streaming via Disney+, on June 22, so you can watch (or re-watch) the movie very soon!

Below again is the trailer for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, to set the stage for the film’s plot and main characters of Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), Wong (Benedict Wong), Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), Dr. Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams), and Baron Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor).

Marvel Studios’ Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness | Official Trailer” video uploaded by Marvel Entertainment, Standard YouTube License

***SPOILER ALERTS BELOW***

1. Did Wong ever get invited to Tony Stark’s wedding?

Hear me out, I swear this random question will make soon make sense. Near the beginning of the movie, Strange attends Christine’s wedding, without Wong by his side. That made me wonder if Wong ever got invited to Tony Stark’s wedding? This connects back to a scene in Avengers: Infinity War (2018):

Wong then ultimately defeats Cull Obsidian by transporting him to a snowy region/planet and then severs off the villain’s arm when closing the portal. It’s nice to see Wong victorious in battle in this movie, especially considering his previous battle at the end of Doctor Strangewhich I went into detail in last week’s post. Stark is so impressed with Wong’s quick thinking and magical skillz that he shouts, “Wong, you’re invited to the wedding!” (We had learned earlier that Tony and Pepper are recently engaged.)

Jennifer Snoek-Brown, “First impressions: ‘Avengers: Infinity War’,” Reel Librarians, 2 May 2018

We never did learn that cliffhanger question in that movie, if Wong ever got to go to Tony and Pepper’s wedding. And why wasn’t Wong invited to this wedding? Obviously, as Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021) showed, Wong would make an excellent guest. 😉

2. Wong looks bad-ass wielding a sword.

Wong is ALWAYS a bad-ass, of course, but it was cool to get to see him literally in action. In the initial fight scene with Wong, Strange, and America Chavez battling Gargantos (a big eyeball, squid-like monster variant of Shuma-Gorath), Wong wields a lasso and a sword. Plus, we get a closeup view of Wong’s costume, which we had gotten a sneak peek of when his action figure came out earlier this year:

Left: Screenshot of Wong fighting Gargantos in Doctor Strange In the Multiverse of Madness (2022) ; Right: Photo of the Wong action figure I purchased this spring, which shows the costume and sword that Wong has in the movie.

3. There are books kept secret from the Kamar-Taj librarian?!

When Wong and Strange debrief with Chavez after they dispatch Gargantos, they start talking about the Book of Vishanti. Wong explains how he found out about this book:

You find out there’s a secret book you get when you become Sorcerer Supreme.

So that means that when Wong was the Kamar-Taj librarian, back in 2016’s Doctor Strange, he DID NOT yet know about all the books in that library’s collection!

4. How many languages can Wong speak?

There was also a brief bit in this scene with Chavez where she and Wong start speaking Spanish to each other, much to the annoyance of Strange. (But everything seems to annoy Strange, doesn’t it?) It just makes me wonder how many languages Wong speaks… and how good he is at everything he does! #TeamWong #WongVerse

You can see the clip of their Spanish conversation here.

5. Once again, Wong is the Supreme Researcher.

Wong invites Chavez to Kamar-Taj to help keep her safe from Wanda, the Scarlet Witch. And once again, Wong proves how he is the Supreme Researcher, as he then provides the exposition about the Scarlet Witch and the prophecy:

The Scarlet Witch is a being of unfathomable magic. She can re-write Reality as she chooses, and is prophesied to either rule or annihilate the cosmos.

Wong also explains about the Darkhold vs. the Book of Vishanti. Essentially, it’s the story of good vs. evil, embodied within books. Darkhold contains spells of black magic and represents the evil, whereas the Book of Vishanti contains spells of white magic and represents the good.

And who better than to explain about books than Wong, the Sorcerer Supreme and (former? current?) Kamar-Taj librarian?! He also was on exposition duty in previous Marvel movies, including Doctor Strange (2016), Avengers: Infinity War (2018), and Shang-Chi: The Legend of the Ten Rings (2021).

Wong primarily serves the role of an Information Provider, but at this point you could argue he’s grown into an Atypical character, which are reel librarian “portrayals [that] go beyond stereotypical constraints.”

6. Are we seeing the missing book from the Kamar-Taj library in this movie?

Could either the Book of Vishanti or the Darkhold be the missing library book from the Kamar-Taj library’s “forbidden section,” as glimpsed in Doctor Strange (2016)? I would suspect it is likely the Darkhold, rather than the Book of Vishanti, because Wong only found out about the latter when he became Sorcerer Supreme (see #3 above).

Ryan Arey from ScreenCrush also theorizes it’s the Darkhold that went missing from the Kamar-Taj library:

DOCTOR STRANGE in the Multiverse of Madness: EASTER EGGS and Breakdown: Every Marvel Cameo” video uploaded by ScreenCrush, Standard YouTube License.

7. Wong is also a man of action.

When Wanda the Scarlet Witch attacks Kamar-Taj, Wong wastes no time in snapping into commander-in-chief mode — he IS the Sorcerer Supreme, after all! — and shouting orders to the students:

Kamar-Taj must now become a fortress. Stop the teaching, arm the students.

[…]

Defensive positions, now!

[…]

Fortify your minds!

8. Reel librarian Wong helps destroy a book!

Yep, (former?) reel librarian Wong helps destroy a book. But not just any book. The Darkhold, the book of dark magic, the book of evil. Do the ends justify the means?

Wong tries to save Chavez from the Scarlet Witch, but he ends up getting blasted by Wanda and banging his head and passing out. When he wakes to finds himself tied up, he spies one of the students, Sara (Sheila Atim), sneaking her way into the room. He tries to stop Sara.

Sara: I need to destroy the book.

Wong: No, it cannot be you!

The Darkhold does gets destroyed in this scene. I know that the Darkhold and the Book of Vishanti serve as this movie’s MacGuffins, but if we’re not going to get to see the Kamar-Taj library again, then at least we’re getting a Wong story focused around books!

9. Did the Kamar-Taj library get destroyed?

We see Kamar-Taj in rubble after the Scarlet Witch blasts it to pieces. Did the Kamar-Taj library get destroyed, or is it still intact? Is there a new librarian? Where is the library located within the monastery? Inquiring minds want to know!

Here’s a quick look behind-the-scenes of destroying Kamar-Taj:

Doctor Strange multiverse of madness || Behind the scene of destroying Kamar-Taj” video uploaded by SilverLake Entertainment, Standard YouTube License

10. One of Wong’s superpowers is his humanity.

One of Wong’s greatest strengths, or superpowers — and a big reason why I think he’s become a fan favorite — is his humanity and belief in people. But this superpower can also be manipulated.

Although the Darkhold gets destroyed, Wanda figures out that Wong must know about more the Darkhold. (Because he’s the librarian and knows everything, right? Kinda slow there, eh, Wanda?!) Wong says that she will have to kill him to get that knowledge. But Wanda has also already figured out about Wong’s humanity — and that his humanity can be manipulated — so she threatens to kill the other students, including the Rintrah (a green-skinned minotaur that was part of Marvel’s Build-A-Figure marketing ploy with Wong’s action figure).

Of course, Wanda’s evil ploy works, and Wong confesses that the Darkhold that got destroyed was a copy, and the original is at Wundagore Mountain. (Did anyone else hear this first as Wandacore? Sorry, I don’t read the comics, so I was unfamiliar with it.)

Here’s a quick video that explains the significance of Wundagore Mountain:

Wundagore Mountain Is Pretty Significant | Doctor Strange 2” video uploaded by Geek Culture Clips, Standard YouTube License

11. A library of one?

So although we don’t get to see the Kamar-Taj library again — no, I’m NOT letting that go, such a wasted opportunity in a storyline about forbidden books! — we do get a scene of the Gap Junction, “a plane between universes” where Strange hid the Book of Vishanti.

Screenshot of the Book of Vishanti from Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness
Screenshot of the Book of Vishanti from Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, taken from this YouTube video

Essentially, this serves as a library of one, right? Riiiiiiiiiight. 😉

12. Wong still has his sense of humor.

After Wanda throws Wong off a cliff on Wundagore (RUDE!), he uses his lasso to climb back up. He also picks off one of the guard monsters to help distract them for Zombie Strange.

When Zombie Strange shows up, Wong quips:

I don’t even want to know.

Never change, Wong. Never change. 😀

13. Wong is wrong!

Wong is… wrong?! I know. I was shocked, too.

When Zombie Strange is trying to rescue America Chavez while simultaneously battling Wanda, Wong conjures up a cage to contain Wanda (ever helpful, our Wong). Zombie Strange hesitates between untying Chavez or usurping her magical powers (and therefore killing her) in order to beat Wanda once and for all.

Wong urges him to do the latter:

It’s the only way!

But Wong is wrong.

The only way forward is for Strange to save Chavez, so she can finally believe in her true power and and wield it to save herself.

Honestly, I thought this was a pretty cheap and manipulative use of Wong in this movie. (And don’t get me started with the cheap and manipulative use of Wanda and her motivations and lack of agency in this movie!) They showed Wong’s humanity when he gave up the secret of the Darkhold to help save the Kamar-Taj students, but then they flipped the script — and Wong’s personality — at the end in order to make room for Zombie Strange to show his ultimate humanity and character growth. (That was an odd sentence to write. It’s a weird storyline with lots of characters, y’all!) It didn’t have to be either/or; both Wong and Zombie Strange could have had cinematic space to show their humanity.

14. Strange is finally Wong’s right-hand man.

There’s a running gag throughout the movie that Strange can’t be bothered to bow to Wong, even though Wong is the Sorcerer Supreme. (Shades of White supremacy, anyone?) But at the end, Strange finally does bow to Wong, showing his respect. About time!

Throughout my analysis post of Doctor Strange (2016), I kept pointing out how many times Wong is visually shown to be Strange’s right-hand man (note: he stands on Strange’s right side, which reflects opposite onscreen), which fits his role in that movie as a supporting player. But Wong has grown as a character — and as a fan favorite! — and is now the Sorcerer Supreme, at least in this universe. Therefore, Strange is now Wong’s right-hand man, and it’s fitting that he finally accepts that. Again, about time! 🙂

Strange bows to Wong in this screenshot from Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, taken from this YouTube video

15. Is Wong a Nexus being?

At the end of the movie, Strange asks Wong a question.

Strange: Are you happy?

Wong: That’s an interesting question. Sometimes I do wonder about my other lives. But I’m still grateful of this one. Even with its own tribulations.

Wong sounds very wise here, being grateful and content for this life in this universe. But although we see many variants of Dr. Strange in this movie, we never see variants of Wong, even though Wong references “my other lives” in this brief exchange. In the other universes we see, the Dr. Strange variant is also the one serving as Sorcerer Supreme. But in this reality, Wong serves as Sorcerer Supreme, not Strange.

That got me thinking… could Wong be a Nexus Being?

A Nexus Being is someone who exists in all parallel worlds of the Multiverse, serving as anchors to that reality. America Chavez proves to be a Nexus Being in this movie, because she can travel between worlds, and she always remains herself. It is my understanding that the Scarlet Witch is a Nexus Being in the comics… but because this movie’s plot depended on there being variants of Wanda, doesn’t that mean that she isn’t a Nexus Being in the movie versions? If I have misunderstood this, leave a comment!

This Screen Rant article ponders the question of Wong being a Nexus Being:

As his appearances have grown more frequent, Wong has also become more powerful than audiences had ever seen him before, perhaps indicating that the sorcerer is dealing with a larger power that he is perhaps unaware of. Given that he will no doubt accompany Dr. Strange on his multiversal exploits, it may be revealed that the beloved character has been a Nexus being all along.

Jordan Iacobucci, “MCU: 10 Characters That Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness Could Reveal To Be Nexus Beings,” ScreenRant.com, 29 April 2022

If Wong does end up being a Nexus Being, that would be AWESOME. And befitting one of the most beloved reel librarian characters ever.

16. Wong shows up when you need him.

The opposite of a bad penny (turning up when no one wants you), Wong turns up exactly when you need him. Or rather… when the plot needs him! That’s why he’s often used for exposition, to explain things in order to move the plot forward.

Here’s the way my husband put it:

Wong shows up when you need him. Not like “deus ex machina,” but like “sorcerer and the script.” It’s like plot armor!

Wong, the true hero of the MCU, in a screenshot from Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness
Wong, the true hero of the MCU, in a screenshot from Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, taken from this YouTube video

I agree with this article that argues that Wong is “the real one holding it all together” in this movie:

Despite what you may have been led to believe, the hero of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is not Benedict Cumberbatch’s [Stephen] Strange. At least, he isn’t the real one holding it all together. Sure, he may get top billing on all the posters where he towers above everyone else. However, the real protector of all that is good across the various multiverses has proven time and time again to actually be the reliable Wong. He is the true Sorcerer Supreme, the protector of the New York Sanctum, and the dedicated librarian of Kamar-Taj.

Chase Hutchinson, “Benedict Wong Is the Real Hero of ‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’,” Collider, 6 May 2022

17. Why is Wong so popular?

Obviously, I am just one of millions of fans who love Wong. I think the way Wong’s character was rewritten for the screen (which I go into more detail here in this “Perspectives about Wong’s reel librarian character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe” post); Wong’s humanity; and also, actor Benedict Wong’s humor and screen presence, have all helped make Wong a firm fan favorite.

Below are a couple of other perspectives on why Wong is so popular.

The secret is probably Benedict Wong, the actor chosen to portray the character. Fans seem to love this character, one that was once a dull stereotype and a reminder of a more unpleasant age. Thanks to a new take and a stellar casting choice, Wong has become the universe-hopping fixed point of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Wong is everywhere and nobody is complaining, in fact, they want more. Let this once-minor character continue to outgrow his start and become as important and iconic to the MCU as Steve or Tony. He’s earned it.

Joshua Kristian McCoy, “MCU: Why Is Wong In Everything?,” GameRant.com, 4 June 2022

And straight from Benedict Wong himself:

So, we created this no-nonsense, midfield general librarian with hints of Roy Keane [former Manchester United player] in there. This character has progressed now, and I found out when [director] Sam Raimi was on a conference call and talking me through the story. Here was this legend. He said, ‘Of course, you’re going to be the Sorcerer Supreme,’ and as this geek, it’s so great what they’ve done with the character and how he stands toe-to-toe with Doctor Strange.

Benedict Wong, as quoted in “Marvel Fans Are Loving Wong’s Dominance in Phase 4” by Aaron Perine, ComicBook.com, 18 May 2022

18. It’s the WongVerse, and we’re just living in it.

Wong has so rapidly become a fan favorite, it’s really the #WongVerse now! Benedict Wong has appeared thus far in 7 MCU movies and series… and counting:

Plus, Benedict Wong is credited to appear in at least one episode of the upcoming TV series She-Hulk: Attorney at Law. So we will see Wong again… and not a moment too soon!


So there’s my round-up of random thoughts, questions, and first impressions I had while watching Wong and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022). What other thoughts, questions, theories, and observations did you have? Please leave a comment and share!

Sources used

Reader poll write-up, Spring 2022 | A reel librarian gets shushed in ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ (1961)

“There you are, right in the public library!”

As per the winning entry in the most recent reader poll — thanks again to everyone who voted in the poll! — I am analyzing Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) and its library scenes set in the New York Public Library. The Oscar-winning film, based on Truman Capote’s classic 1958 novella, was directed by Blake Edwards and written by screenwriter George Axelrod. The film stars Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly, a New York “society gal” and free spirit who started out as Lulamae, a “wild thing” from Tulip, Texas. George Peppard co-stars as Paul Varjak, a once promising writer who now idles away his time as a “kept man” of married socialite Mrs. Emily Eustace “2E” Failenson, played by Patricia Neal. Buddy Ebsen and Martin Balsam also shine in supporting roles.

The film’s original trailer focuses primarily on Hepburn’s charm and style, which have helped make this movie a cultural and sartorial touchstone (especially Hepburn’s iconic “little black dress”).

Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) Trailer #1 | Movieclips Classic Trailers” uploaded by Movieclips Classic Trailers, Standard YouTube License.

But this movie is dark, y’all. It has its issues, which I will get into, and every character has flaws. Beneath the glitter and parties, there’s an undercurrent of sadness and self-doubt; this is also reflective of the source novella’s tone. When I was a teenager, I remember a friend of mine couldn’t stand this movie because of how the cat was treated at the end of the movie. (Orangey, who played the no-name cat, has his own Wikipedia page!) The film’s saddest and most truthful moments are the ones I personally relate to and remember the most (e.g., “the mean reds“).

And I cannot write about this movie without mentioning that it features one of the most racist portrayals of an Asian character ever onscreen, with Mickey Rooney, a White actor, portraying Mr. Yunioshi, a Japanese photographer. Rooney reportedly wore false teeth, used tape for his eyelids, and wore “yellow face” makeup for this role. SO NOT OK. TV networks now showing this movie have either cut out the Mr. Yunioshi scenes altogether or inserted trigger warnings or context cards before showing the movie.

And I don’t think pointing out this film’s flaws and racism is unfairly holding up this 1961 film to 2022 standards. “It was considered a crude caricature even at the time of the film’s 1961 release,” and critics expressed qualms about Rooney’s portrayal from the beginning. For example, in 1961, the movie reporter in Variety called the film “whitewashed” and that “Mickey Rooney’s participation as a much-harassed upstairs Japanese photographer adds an unnecessarily incongruous note to the proceedings.” Rooney’s personal assertion in a 2008 interview that “Never in all the more than 40 years after we made it – not one complaint” is revisionist history.

So… do the library scenes fare any better? Let’s investigate.

Library scene #1

Let’s set the stage for the events that lead to the first library scene, seen in the video clip below.

At 1 hour and 8 minutes into the 114-minute film, Holly and Paul decide to go out and “spend the whole day doing things we’ve never done before.” Holly muses that “Of course I can’t really think of anything I’ve never done” — but she’s wrong!

Breakfast at Tiffany’s – Paul and Holly Go to the Library (13) – Audrey Hepburn” video uploaded by EverythingAudrey.com, Standard YouTube License

Five minutes later into the film — after a trip to Tiffany’s, as you do — Paul takes Holly… to the New York Public Library!

The lobby to the New York Public Library's central branch in Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961). Note the Black male reel librarian at the right-hand counter.
The lobby to the New York Public Library’s central branch. Note the Black male reel librarian at the right-hand counter.

Holly: What is this place, anyway?

Paul: You said you wanted to sit down. It’s the public library. You’ve never been here?

Holly: No. That makes two for me. I don’t see any books.

Paul: They’re in there.

They take a peek into the Reading Room.

Peeking into the Reading Room at the NYPL Central Branch
Peeking into the Reading Room at the NYPL Central Branch

Then Paul takes her to the wall of card catalog drawers. (So dreamy! Happy sigh. 🙂 )

Paul then explain the basics about card catalogs and library organization.

Paul: Each one of these little drawers is stuffed with little cards, and each little card is a book or an author.

Holly: It’s fascinating.

Paul: V-A-R-J-A-K.

Holly: Really?! [flips through the cards] Look! Isn’t it marvelous? There you are, right in the public library. “Varjak, Paul. Nine Lives.” Then a lot of numbers. You think they really have the book itself, live?

Paul: Sure. Follow me. [He takes the drawer out]

They walk across the room to the desk, where a Black man, dressed in a brown suit and tie, stands beneath a sign that reads “File call slips here.” Holly and the man share polite smiles. This reel librarian is not included in the credits list.

Holly Golightly and the Black male reel librarian politely smile at each other at the "File Call Slips Here" desk
Holly Golightly and the Black male reel librarian politely smile at each other at the “File Call Slips Here” desk

A moment later, then a board lights up with the number 57 — it’s like waiting at the doctor’s office or at the DMW, hah! — and Holly and Paul walk up to another desk, where a middle-aged, auburn-haired White woman stands. She is also dressed in a suit, this one a dark blue plaid. This reel librarian is credited in the cast list, and was played by Elvia Allman.

The visual introduction to the female librarian in this scene is from the back and over her shoulder — a common visual introduction to minor reel librarian characters in movies

Holly [in a loud voice]: 57, please. Nine Lives by Varjak, Paul.

Librarian: Shhhhhh.

Holly: Did you ever read it? It’s simply marvelous.

Librarian: No, I’m afraid I haven’t. [Goes back to filing or typing cards.]

Holly: Well, you should. He wrote it. He’s Varjak, Paul in person. [To Paul] She doesn’t believe me. Show her your driver’s license or your diner’s club card or something. [To the librarian] Honest, he is the author. Cross my heart and kiss my elbow.

Librarian: Would you kindly lower your voice, miss?

Here is the reel librarian’s EPIC shushing face:

The librarian's shushing face
The librarian’s shushing face

Holly: [To Paul] Why don’t you autograph it for her, Paul? [To the librarian] Don’t you think that would be nice? Sort of make it more personal?

Librarian: Really, miss. [whispers something unintelligible]

Holly: [To Paul] Go on, then. Don’t be so stuck-up. Autograph it to her.

Paul: All right. What shall I say?

Holly: Something sentimental, I think.

Librarian: What are you doing? Stop that!

Paul: [To the librarian] Shhhhh!

Librarian [in a quieter tone]: You’re defacing public property!

Holly: Well, all right, if that’s the way you feel. Come on, Fred darling, let’s get out of here. I don’t think this place is half as nice as Tiffany’s.

And here’s the reel librarian getting shushed herself!

The librarian gets shushed!
The librarian gets shushed!

This first scene lasts 2 minutes total.

Here was my initial summation of this scene from my undergraduate thesis over 20 years ago:

“The films that provide glimpses of librarians for humorous purposes only also are the films that exhibit probably the crudest portrayals of librarian stereotypes. … George Peppard and Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) harass a middle-aged librarian (played by Elvia Allman) in the New York Public Library by signing a book, thereby “defacing public property.” (p.13)

Jennifer Snoek-Brown, “A Glimpse Through the Glasses: Portrayals of Librarians in Film.” Thesis, West Texas A&M U, 2001.

I think my initial view was a bit harsh and more than a little biased. Maybe I’ve mellowed as I’ve gotten older. 😉 I certainly don’t condone the dismissive and flippant attitude that Holly displays, but I also think that the librarian could have been a LOT friendlier and shown some basic human kindness to them with a greeting and small talk. I mean, she greeted Holly with a shush! NOT COOL. I realize that this script is played for laughs, and stereotypical portrayals of minor characters help set the foundation for easy laughs, but it still kind of irks me that the librarian character is written so stereotypically. The point is definitely to laugh AT this uptight, prissy librarian.

I do kind of love that the librarian gets shushed by Paul, though! That made me laugh. But honestly, these kinds of shushing scenes perpetuate the myth that libraries are these tomb-like, quiet places. Libraries DO often have designated quiet zones, but libraries also serve as community spaces where small groups and friends and family gather, so I almost always encounter a low-to-medium hum of noise whenever I visit public libraries.

I also quite like that the beginning of this library scene depicts joy in discovering how a library works. I love that little micro-scene at the card catalog wall because of the look of delight on Holly’s face! Also, this scene conveys the joy of writers having their names and resources in libraries. (I’m married to a writer, so this scene rings true for me on both counts. 😉 )

Card catalog joy!
Card catalog joy!

And Paul does a very efficient job in explaining the purpose of the card catalog system. (And thank you for being accurate in the call numbers, as they are indeed under the correct “U-V” section of the card catalog. Those kinds of details matter!)

This is also an example of a “closed stacks” library, where the public users do not have access to most of the library’s collection. Most public libraries have what are known as “open stacks,” or bookshelves and collections that are open for the public to wander around and browse. By the way, the NYPL Library website has a “Library Lingo” page that defines this common library term and concept:

“STACKS: The area where the library’s books and other materials are stored. In common with other major research libraries, The New York Public Library has “closed stacks”: you must request material instead of going to the shelf to retrieve it yourself. The New York Public Library’s Branch Libraries have “open stacks” where you may browse and retrieve material yourself.”

General Research Division, “Library Lingo,” New York Public Library, Nov. 1995

The White female librarian in this first library scene fulfills the Comic Relief character type, while the uncredited Black male librarian is your basic Information Provider character type. I think it’s interesting to note that the reel librarian of color is visibly friendlier than the White reel librarian, although the reel librarian of color has much less screen time and makes less of an impression onscreen.

Library scene #2

The second, and final, library scene in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) needs a little context, as well. At 1 hour and 24 minutes into the film, Paul dumps his lady friend and goes in search of Holly. He calls and looks everywhere and finally finds himself back in the New York Public Library, where he is surprised to see Holly!

This second library scene is in the video clip below:

Breakfast at Tiffany’s – Paul Tells Holly in the Library He Loves Her (16) – Audrey Hepburn” video uploaded by EverythingAudrey.com, Standard YouTube License

By the way, in earlier viewings, I had missed that a different reel librarian was on duty at the “File Call Slips Here” desk in the library lobby. This time, a younger White man, also dressed in a suit and tie, is standing at the desk and helping a library patron.

A different male librarian, this time a younger White man, helps a patron at the "File Call Slips Here" desk in the library lobby
A different male librarian, this time a younger White man, helps a patron at the “File Call Slips Here” desk in the library lobby

From the look of surprise on Paul’s face, it’s clear that he wasn’t expecting to see Holly there; rather, the NYPL must one of his own comfort spots.

Holly is reading at the NYPL
Holly is reading at the NYPL

Paul comes over to her and kisses her neck, which startles her. Dude is NOT READING THE (READING) ROOM.

Paul: Hi.

Holly [turns back to her book and adjusts her sunglasses]: What do you want?

Paul: I want to talk to you.

Holly: I’m busy. [turns a page of her book]

Paul: What are you doing?

Holly: Reading.

Leave the lady be, Paul. She’s reading!

Paul [picks up a book from the table]: South America: Land of Wealth and Promise?

Holly: It’s very interesting.

SIDE NOTE: Y’all *know* I looked up that title in WorldCat, the online catalog of the world’s libraries, right?! Right. From what I can tell, that book title was very likely made up, as there is no record in WorldCat for a book with that title.

Paul: Let’s get out of here. I said, let’s get out of here. I want to talk to you.

[Another patron shushes him, but the camera never pans to the other person.]

Paul [to Holly]: What’s the matter with you, anyway? What’s happened?

Holly: Fred, would you please just leave me alone.

Paul [grabs her arms]: Holly, I love you.

Holly gets up from the table and walks away with her purse, leaving the books on the table. Paul follows her and grabs her arm. He raises her voice, shouting at her, and Holly tells him, very clearly, “Let me go” three times. She tries to get away, but Paul roughly grabs her arms again several times.

Holly reveals that she’s going to marry a South American, Jose de Silva Pereira. (What Paul doesn’t know is that Holly is doing this so she can help take care of her brother when he gets out of the Army.) This further enrages Paul, who continues to shout at her and grab and shake her in front of several library patrons.

Physical assault alert in the library!
Physical assault alert in the library!

Paul [grabbing her again]: You’re crazy.

Holly: What, do you think you own me?

Paul: That’s exactly what I think.

Holly: I know, I know. That’s what everybody always thinks. But everybody happens to be wrong.

Paul: Look, I am NOT everybody. Or am I? Is that what you really think? That I’m no different from all your other rats and super-rats? [Holly walks away.] Wait a minute. [He takes his $50 writing check out of his breast pocket.] That’s it. If that’s what you really think, there’s something I want to give you.

Holly: What’s that?

Paul: Fifty dollars for the powder room.

He turns and walks away, and we see that everyone in the Reading Room is staring at him. No wonder! He just grabbed a woman and yelled at her in the library! Physical assault alert in the library!

Paul walks away at the end of this second library scene
Paul walks away at the end of this second library scene

THIS SCENE IS NOT OK. This is NOT romantic. Red flags EVERYWHERE. Paul is abusive, both verbally and physically, and he confirms that he thinks he “owns” her. NOPE. And then he gives her his $50 check and stalks away. This parting shot by Paul echoes what we had learned earlier, that one of the ways that Holly earns money is to get guys to pay her $50 every time she goes to the powder room. It’s a “gotcha” moment — a moment that, script-wise, works quite well on the page — but it’s a cheap moment focusing on shaming a woman trying to earn a living, for herself and for her brother. NOT OK. Even as a young woman, this scene made me feel uneasy when I first watched this movie; now, I am better able to articulate why this scene is problematic.

One thing about this scene that I realized is positive? That Holly went back to the library for research! Although she ended the first library scene with a flippant remark, “I don’t think this place is half as nice as Tiffany’s,” she DOES return when she needs some information, and when she needs a place to read and think. 🙂

This second scene in the library lasts 3 minutes. The second male reel librarian is also uncredited and serves as an Information Provider.

Altogether, we spend 5 minutes total at the New York Public Library in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Although they don’t last that long, the two library scenes are memorable, landing in the Class III category, in which reel librarians play supporting characters.

Continuing the conversation

It was an interesting exercise to revisit this movie — one I have seen several times, and a movie I do enjoy overall, despite some quite troubling scenes and portrayals, as I’ve detailed in this post. I can recognize the negatives — like the racist portrayal of Mr. Yunioshi and the physical assault in the library — while also enjoying the positives, like Holly’s style, the haunting “Moon River” song on the fire escape, and of course, Holly’s utter delight in learning about the card catalog system. ❤

I agree with this reviewer, who sums up Breakfast at Tiffany’s like this:

Holly’s ambiguities, flaws, and layers make her a much more interesting protagonist […] Breakfast at Tiffany’s is a weird, gorgeous, difficult, fascinating, dark film—and it’s all the better for it, but if you’re looking for something aspirational that you can watch purely for aesthetics, well, there are thousands of other films to choose from. So next time you claim this is your all-time favorite movie, I hope you’re able to back it up with some of the film’s flaws, and not just cite the fashion as the reason.

Elizabeth Logan. “Breakfast at Tiffany’s Problems No One Ever Talks About.” Glamour, 30 Dec. 2016.

What are your thoughts upon revisiting Breakfast at Tiffany’s and reflecting on its library scenes? Did anything new come to the surface for you? Please leave a comment and share!

Sources used

A research quest in ‘Winter’s Tale’ (2014) + how to tell the difference between microfilm vs. microfiche

And when you have a research quest, where do you go? The library, OF COURSE.

Happy (almost) Valentine’s Day — or Galentine’s Day, whichever you prefer! ❤ And of course, I had to analyze a romantic movie for this post, and I chose Winter’s Tale (2014), starring Colin Farrell, Jessica Brown Findlay, Russell Crowe, and Jennifer Connelly. The movie was adapted from Mark Helprin’s 1983 novel of the same name. (And if you were confused about this movie and thought it might be an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s play “The Winter’s Tale,” then please know that you are not alone!)

This movie’s plot is impossible to describe — or follow that well, if you’re unfamiliar with the source novel, like me. The most straightforward way to describe it is that it is a time-bending fantasy romance that flashes between 1916 and 2014. The central romance is between Peter Lake (Colin Farrell) and Beverly Penn (Jessica Brown Findlay).

Spoiler alert: This movie is NOT GOOD. And I also get super CAPSY (which means cranky) throughout the following analysis.

Here was my reaction while watching this movie:

I do kind of love that the official trailer includes Jennifer Connelly asking, “What’s happening here?” (at 1:49 mins), which really does sum up this movie:

Winter’s Tale – Official Trailer [HD]” video uploaded by Warner Bros. Pictures, Standard YouTube License

Like I said, this movie is BONKERS. I can’t decide what’s worse… Colin Farrell’s haircut? Russell Crowe’s Irish accent? The endless parade of really good actors inexplicably popping up in minor or bit parts? (See my shout-out to legendary Broadway actor Norm Lewis in my tweet above.)

I have to imagine that the original novel is better able to capture the sweeping scale of the tale, right?! For example, the pop culture site Pajiba includes a review of the book (“I’m not sure if it’s the best… book I’ve ever read, but it’s pretty… close”), contrasted with a review of the movie adaptation (“The worst movie ever made can’t even touch this”).

If you have read Helprin’s book, please leave a comment and share.

Step 1 in the research quest: The New York Public Library scene

At 80 minutes into this 118-minute long movie, Peter is walking around with amnesia in 2014 but finds what he thinks is a clue to regaining his memory, a token that reads: “Coheeries Chocolates, Happy New Year!”

And when you have a research quest, where do you go? The library, OF COURSE. And not just any library. He heads straight for the central branch of the New York Public Library, with the iconic lion statues that are visible in the screenshot below. (I’m relieved that knowing about the NYPL withstands time-bending amnesia.)

The iconic lion statue(s) outside the New  York Public Library
The iconic lion statue(s) outside the New York Public Library

In a scene that lasts only a few seconds, we glimpse the famous Reading Room of the NYPL behind a White woman with long, straight blonde hair. She is wearing glasses and is sitting behind a tall counter with a laptop in front of her. The librarian doesn’t say anything — not even a greeting! — and doesn’t even look up at him until Peter comes up to the counter. Her facial expression is quite stern. (This is not realistic, from my experience. It’s almost Pavlovian for librarians to smile and say something encouraging like, “Hello, how can I help you?” when a patron comes anywhere near the reference desk.)

The NYPL librarian
The NYPL librarian

Peter hands her the token, and we get a closeup of the librarian picking it up.

A Coheeries clue
A Coheeries clue

The character is listed in the credits as simply “Librarian,” and is played by Caitlin Dulany. That’s all we see of this reel librarian, which lands this portrayal in the Class IV category, with librarian cameos.

Based on the next scene, the librarian is clearly successful in having found something useful and providing enough information for Peter to move to the next step. My guess is that she would have looked for any records of a company called “Coheeries Chocolates” and/or possibly just searched for “Coheeries” as a keyword; that is the research route that I would have taken in this situation.

Therefore, although we never hear the librarian speak or see any more of her, she serves as a successful Information Provider.

Step #2 in the research quest: The NY Sun’s Reading Room and newspaper archives

Next, at 1 hour and 22 minutes into the movie, we follow Peter to The Sun newspaper headquarters.

Next stop: The Sun's newspaper archives
Next stop: The Sun’s newspaper archives

As Peter walks up to another reference counter, we see the sign along the side wall that reads “Isaac Penn Reading Room.” Who is Isaac Penn? He’s played by William Hurt, and he is the father of Beverly Penn (Jessica Brown Findlay), the woman Peter fell in love with back in 1916.

A view of the (fictional) Isaac Penn Reading Room
A view of the (fictional) Isaac Penn Reading Room

At the reference desk — and in the screenshot below, you can see a small brown sign on the wall that reads “Reference Desk” above the fire escape floor plan — is Norm Lewis. The Norm Lewis, who was the first Black American actor to play Javert in a production of the musical Les Misérables (in 2006) and the first Black American actor to play the title role in The Phantom of the Opera on Broadway (in 2014; Robert Guillaume was the first Black American actor to play the Phantom regionally, in 1990). The Norm Lewis, who has also starred in productions of Miss Saigon, Sweeney Todd, Dreamgirls, Chicago, Hair, The Little Mermaid, The Music Man, and Porgy and Bess. The Norm Lewis, who has been nominated for a Tony, a Drama Desk award, a Grammy, and a SAG award. (Can you tell I’m a fan? This man’s skill is undeniable.)

And in this movie, Norm Lewis gets stuck playing a bit character called “Custodian” (WTF?!!!), with his natural charisma muted to being a cardigan-wearing obstructionist to Colin Farrell’s floppy hair. Norm Lewis deserved better; we all deserved better. (To be clear, playing a reel librarian or reel archivist is not the problem here; the way this character is written and used in this scene is the problem.)

Norm Lewis in 'Winter's Tale' (2014)
Hi, I’m the Norm Lewis. Show some respect!

Let’s listen in as Peter walks up to the desk and asks to meet with Isaac Penn.

Custodian: This is the Isaac Penn Reading Room.

Peter: I’d like to speak to him if I could.

Custodian: Be a neat trick … Penn’s been dead 90 years. [He’s so deadpan! Peter is unamused.]

Peter: There’s a theater on Hudson Street, called the Theater of the Coheeries. Can you tell me if you have any information on it please? Isaac Penn donated it.

He taps on his computer, and as he leans forward, we also glimpse two more workers behind him, a Black woman at a desk and another shadow-y figure (a man?) seated at another desk behind a column. These two roles are uncredited in the cast list.

Three reel librarians in one screenshot!
Three reel librarians in one screenshot!

Custodian: I see it here. But the information on it hasn’t been cataloged from the microfiche.

Peter: Ok, might I see them please? These “micro fish.”

Custodian: Sure. Two forms of ID .[He reaches for a form.] Fill this out. Two-week approval period, and you can search back there til your heart’s delight.

Peter: Can I just —

Custodian: I’m sorry, can’t help you.

Let’s pause for the EPIC “I don’t give a f—” facial expression that Norm Lewis is giving Colin Farrell here. You can just tell the weariness behind trying to explain policies to a person — especially a White man? — who doesn’t want to listen and thinks those policies don’t apply to them. (For what it’s worth, the policies above sound pretty standard to me, for access to a private newspaper’s specialized collection of archives. It’s not a public library. Or am I just used to policies like these? Leave a comment and share what you think.)

That is also ALL OF US as we are forced to gaze upon Farrell’s haircut in this movie.

A closeup of Norm Lewis in 'Winter's Tale' (2014)
Dude, don’t give me attitude with that haircut.

At this point, Virginia Gamely (Jennifer Connelly) — the one who says, “What’s happening here?” in the trailer — walks over. I guess because reasons of PLOT, but also because I guess White-presenting people gotta stick together when a Black man is explaining the rules to a White man who doesn’t want to listen? It’s not a good look, y’all. 😦

Virginia: There are so many regulations these days. 

ROLLING MY EYES HERE. Ok, Karen.

After Virginia introduces herself and asks if she knows him from somewhere, Peter shares that he’s lost his memory but is starting to remember things again.

Peter: I’ve become convinced that if i can just learn what this Coheeries is, it may help jog my memory. And now they’re telling me [he gestures to Norm] I have to wait two weeks, and I have to have two forms of ID that I don’t have, just to even get back there. Although I have a growing suspicion that I may be able to get to what I need faster as soon as everybody goes home for the night… if only I knew what a “micro fish” looked like. 

Virginia: You know, places like this have all sorts of security systems.

Peter: Well, somehow I find myself undaunted.

Jennifer Connelly in 'Winter's Tale' (2014)
What are you even saying right in front of Norm Lewis?!

Ok, just to point out the obvious… so Peter is talking about breaking into a place of business, and he doesn’t even know what he’s looking for. Pause to point out that Peter is also saying all of this RIGHT IN FRONT OF THE PROFESSIONAL AT THE REFERENCE DESK. We’re not invisible, y’all! The Black man at the counter right next to you is not invisible! The White privilege rolling off Peter is so palpable it’s like its own character.

This is deeply disturbing and condescending behavior. Regardless, Virginia — inexplicably, because EVERYTHING IN THIS MOVIE IS INEXPLICABLE — decides to help him out.

Virginia: You’re in luck. I work here, so I don’t need any approval. Isn’t that right, Jack?

Jack: Reporters come and go as they please, Miss Gamely.

Pause to recognize that the “Custodian” listed in the credits gets a first name in the movie: Jack! Not a full name, just a first name. Still not enough to earn him that name in the credits. And Jack still calls her “Miss Gamely.” So it’s clear that they’re not on equal footing in this scene, and this scene is written to emphasize that. She is giving favors and bending the rules for a strange White man who just threatened to break into the place, after which she tells the Black man to step aside. Again, NOT A GOOD LOOK.

Norm Lewis, Jennifer Connelly, and Colin Farrell in 'Winter's Tale (2014)
#TeamNormLewis

But let’s applaud the fact that Norm Lewis is giving another “I don’t give a f—” facial expression to Virginia, similar to the expression that he gave earlier to Peter. How much of the resigned weariness in his face is informed by his own experiences as a Black man dealing with people who seem to have, and act upon, a sense of entitlement? Am I reading too much into this? Maybe, but that’s how I’m reading the scene at this point in time.

This scene ends at 1 hour and 24 minutes into the movie, so this newspaper reading room scene lasts two-and-a-half minutes.

What role does Norm Lewis play?

I struggled with how to classify the role that Norm Lewis plays in this film. He’s a staff member at a newspaper’s reading room reference desk, so it’s not a typical library. Or you could argue that this is an archives rather than a library.

I asked this on Twitter, if his role would be considered an archivist or a librarian working in an archives, or something else.

If you follow the tweet thread embedded above, you’ll see that Burkely Hermann (the real-life archivist behind the Pop Culture Library Review site) replied that “Maybe they’d be a records clerk or something? It might be a bit of a stretch to call them an archivist” but also that a “recordkeeper… is basically equivalent to archivist from what I’ve read.

So this role seems to fall more on the reel archivist side of the scale than a reel librarian, and I am also going to land more on the reel archivist side for Jack the Custodian, especially in contrast with the reel librarian role shown earlier at the New York Public Library scene.

The library and archives scenes last only a few minutes total, and only a few lines of dialogue for the reel librarians/archivists, so I would argue this lands the movie in the Class IV category, with cameo roles.

One final note to sum up this very odd scene in a very odd movie: I’ve NEVER heard of the term “custodian” being used before in our respective fields. A “custodian” is a more common term for a facilities worker who does the (often dirty but absolutely vital) work of cleaning and maintaining buildings. This is NOT THE SAME WORK as a librarian or an archivist or any kind of records keeper. They are different jobs. Yet one more tone-deaf strike against director/screenwriter Akiva Goldsman.

Or is this how this character was referred to in the source novel? (I hope not.) Is this newspaper reading room scene in the novel? Please leave a comment and share!

Archives scene: How to tell the difference between microfilm vs. microfiche

And now, for my final rant regarding this film. I also tweeted about this, that NO ONE in this movie seems to understand the difference between microfiche and microfilm.

Yes, fair warning, this is a personal pet peeve. I’m going to continue getting all CAPSY in this post.

So let’s do this.

Most of this stack of archival materials includes cardboard boxes of microfilm
Most of this stack of archival materials includes cardboard boxes of microfilm

After Virginia gets Peter past Jack, we next we see a stack of archival materials labeled “Coheeries.” Almost everything in this stack of materials is microfilm. You can tell by the boxes.

Then we see Virginia rolling a spool of microfilm (NOT microfiche, although that’s the word everyone used in the prior scene) into a microfilm reader.

That is a spool of microfilm, NOT microfiche

Something’s not working, so Peter fixes the machine with his magical power of feeling and fixing things with his mind and hands, because SURE WHY NOT.

“What’s happening here?” indeed.

Virginia: But you didn’t even know what microfiche was.

Peter: I’ve just got a knack with machines.

[Insert my real-life librarian’s scream here: Maybe the problem is that NO ONE knows what microfiche is… because THERE IS NO MICROFICHE IN THIS SCENE.]

We learn what Coheeries is — it doesn’t matter, because nothing in this movie matters, but I’m a completist, so I will share that Coheeries is a town — and the photos of Isaac Penn and his daughter, Beverly, help Peter’s memory restore itself.

So this archival research was vital to the plot, after all! Hurray???

This scene lasts less than a minute and a half total, but it is rage-inducing — to me, at least — for showcasing a careless mix-up of microfilm vs. microfiche. I guess they just wanted the verbal comedy (?) of Peter saying “micro fish” instead of “microfiche,” like the, uh, fish out of water (sorry, terrible pun) he is in the year 2014? Y’all, microfilm and microfiche are still important in the field of research. Many primary sources, such as newspaper articles, have been converted into microfilm or microfiche over the past century (for preservation and storage purposes), and there are soooooooooo many of these resources that have not yet been digitized and are not accessible online. I know I’m a librarian, so I’m biased, but it’s true: Not. Everything. Is. Online. It’s good to know that these microform formats still exist, and why they’re still important.

So, to clear up any confusion for an issue you have probably never thought about twice, or even once ( 😉 ), here are the major differences between microfilm vs. microfiche, which are both types of microforms:

Microform:

  • Microform is the umbrella term used to describe scaled-down reproductions of documents for the purposes of easier storage.
  • Microform images are commonly reduced to about 4% or 1/25 of the original document size.
  • Microforms are commonly used to store newspaper archives in library and archival collections, because newspapers are bulky and take up a lot of space, and the material used to print newspapers easily decomposes.

Microfilm:

  • Microfilm” is a type of microform is that is printed on reels or spools, often referred to as cartridges.
  • Microfilm is stored in a cardboard box because of the circular shape of the cartridge (this is how I instantly knew that most of the archival materials in the screenshot above were microfilm, because of the cardboard boxes).
  • Microfilm is not as easy to use, as the spool of film has to be looped carefully into a microfilm reader, as demonstrated in this movie.
  • Microfilm is older technology, and reader machines have often been adapted to read both microfilm and microfiche. So you’ll often hear librarians say “microfilm reader” even when the machine can read, or project, both microfilm and microfiche. (Maybe that helps explain where the confusion between the two stems?)

Microfiche:

  • Microfiche” is another type of microform that is printed on flat cards.
  • Microfiche is stored in a paper sleeve that is open along the top.
  • Microfiche is easier to use, as it slides easily under a projector, similar to how you slide things under a microscope.
  • Microfiche is newer technology and developed from microcards, which are no longer produced but were similar to microfiche but printed on cardboard.

It’s REALLY EASY to visually tell the difference between microfilm vs. microfiche, as seen in the comparison graphic below. Use the slider on the graphic below to compare the microfilm, on the left, which looks like a miniature film reel, versus the microfiche, on the right, which is a flat sheet seen stored in a paper sleeve.

Microfilm vs. microfiche. Image credits: Microfilm image (left) by Ianaré Sévi for Lorien Technologies via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY SA 2.5 / Microfiche sleeve image (right) by SCARC via Flicker, CC BY NC SA 2.0

It’s NOT HARD, y’all, to tell the difference. Right? And honestly, just ASK A LIBRARIAN. Propmasters and screenwriters of the world, please just ask a librarian.

And that’s just good life advice in general, y’all. Ask a librarian. We answer questions for a living! And I promise not to get all capsy on you in real life if you ask me how to tell the differences between microfilm and microfiche. But I WILL get capsy on you if you ask me to watch Winter’s Tale again. 😉

Continuing the spool of microfilm?

You’ve made it through my rant about microfilm vs. microfiche — congrats! — and while it is a pet peeve, it’s not quite on the same level for me as getting call numbers wrong onscreen. But would you like me to write a longer post about how and when movies get it wrong about microfilm vs. microfiche, similar to what I did in this epic post about call numbers? Leave a comment and let me know!

In the meantime, if you’re jonesing for more library or archives scenes with microfilm or microfiche — and why wouldn’t you be?! — here are some past posts to enjoy:

Sources used

31 thoughts and questions I had while watching ‘A Winter Romance’ (2021)

“Digging into history is what I love to do.”

I was browsing recently through the newly added movies on Amazon Prime, and a TV movie entitled A Winter Romance (2021) caught my eye because the word “librarian” was mentioned in the first line of its summary:

When librarian TAYLOR HARRIS suddenly loses her job, she moves back to her small hometown in Montana. There, she gets involved in the fight to help save her brother’s hotel from tycoon JOEL SHEENAN. But things become complicated when she ends up falling for Joel.

Jessica Lowndes, a White Canadian actress, stars as librarian Taylor, and Chad Michael Murray, a White American actor, co-stars as Joel in this GAC Family Channel TV movie — with all the hallmarks of a Hallmark or Lifetime TV movie. Since the librarian is the main character in this TV movie, it took me HOURS to watch this 85-minute movie. Since I had so many notes from all the pauses, replays, research tangents, etc., I was struggling with how to structure this post… which finally led me to the realization that I could structure it more stream-of-consciousness style, noting all my random thoughts and questions I had while watching this TV movie. I hope you enjoy this new kind of post format!

*MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD* (But are there really any kind of spoilers for this kind of holiday romance?)

Here’s a preview trailer for the movie:

1. Why does this TV movie have multiple titles?

Title screen for 'A Winter Romance' (2021)
Title screen for ‘A Winter Romance’ (2021)

The opening scene clearly reveals the movie title to be A Winter Romance, as seen above. But when I tried to look up details about the movie using that title, I came up empty. Finally, looking up the director’s name, Bradley Walsh, led me to the TV movie’s original title, Colors of Love, which led me to other alternate titles, including An Autumn Romance when it was released on the GAC Family cable channel (and as seen above in the YouTube preview). And all of these titles are different from the source novel, The Tycoon’s Kiss, by Jane Porter. Why does this TV movie have 3+ titles? This does not feel like a good sign.

2. Is there a real “Seattle Reference Library”?

Seattle Reference Library exterior
Seattle Reference Library exterior

The opening title screen is of the Seattle cityscape. You can see the Seattle Space Needle in the upper right in the screenshot in #1 above, and the boomerang-shaped buildings along the bottom are the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation campus. Is this movie set in Seattle? How do we get to Montana, as mentioned in the plot summary?

The next shot is the outside of a building with prominent black letters on the sign that read “Seattle Reference Library,” further emphasizing the Seattle location. Is there a real-life library called the “Seattle Reference Library”? Not that I know of, and I live in this region of the U.S. The glass architecture of this building seems to be suggesting the iconic glass building that houses the central Seattle Public Library building. If you recognize this real-life building that’s standing in for this library onscreen, please leave a comment.

3. Don’t piss off librarians by introducing a librarian character and then having that librarian immediately shush a patron onscreen.

Shushing WHILE smiling?!
Shushing WHILE smiling?!

There should be a moratorium on showing librarians shushing onscreen. It’s so stereotypical and so unnecessary, especially in a modern movie.

After Taylor helps a writer who is researching his book — the key is in primary sources, like land grants and diaries — the writer gets too excited (“I have to call my publisher!”) that Taylor shushes him, as seen above. Shushing WHILE smiling?! Insert rolling eyes emoji here: 🙄

4. Shushing aside, this librarian seems to be good at her job.

I think this line will be the set-up for the movie, as Taylor says to the patron, “I’m happy to help… Digging into history is what I love to do.” Shushing aside, Taylor seems to be good at her job, and we are clearly being encouraged to respect her skills as a librarian.

The library director, left, enjoys a (brief) happy moment with research librarian Taylor, right
The library director, left, enjoys a (brief) happy moment with research librarian Taylor, right

The library director, Linda (Jenni Burke), also happens to walk by while Taylor is wrapping up with the writer, and she compliments her work, “It’s like you have a sixth sense.” It’s SO RARE to see multiple librarians onscreen, and I appreciate that the library director is a Black woman. Linda has the power in this relationship, and Taylor, a White woman, is visibly happy to earn praise from her boss. The two librarians share a warm and professional dynamic together.

5. I am guessing that the importance of primary sources will be a theme.

In her exchange with Linda, Taylor also states, “There’s still some stuff that you can’t find on the internet.” So. True. Primary sources, y’all! I feel like this will be a theme in the rest of the movie… so let’s just put a pin in that here.

6. The lack of stable library funding is depressingly realistic.

Linda then reveals the bad news as the two walk down the stairs. The city is facing major budget cuts, and the library has used up some grant funding, which means… the research librarian position has been cut. Taylor’s out of a job, pronto. Yikes. It’s depressing, but I do appreciate the real talk about the inadequacies and instability of library funding. (This was also the crux behind The Twelve Trees of Christmas TV movie!) However, the two part on good terms (Linda: “I’m already looking for other funding. The second I can bring you back, I… We’re gonna miss you so much.”), which is kind of refreshing.

Librarian hug!
Librarian hug!

7. Being a librarian IS a dream job.

Taylor then calls her brother, who’s in Montana, and shares that “was my dream job.” I may be mistaken, but I don’t recall EVER hearing a librarian job being described onscreen as a “dream job” before. Bless. And her brother is so supportive (“You were good at it, too”).

So, 2 minutes in, and we’ve already connected the dots between Seattle and Montana. And we’ve already seen multiple librarians onscreen!

8. Books are our brand!

After her car ends up in a ditch due to icy roads, Taylor gets a ride from Joel Sheenan (their first “meet cute” moment!) to her brother’s house. We meet her brother, Craig (played by Dennis Andres), who is married to a Black woman, Christine (played by Moni Ogunsuyi), and they have a cute-as-a-button daughter, Zoe (played by Delia Lisette Chambers). And I thought it sweet that Zoe gives her a picture she drew of her aunt Taylor in a library, surrounded by books. And then Zoe picks out a book for Taylor to read to her for bedtime.

Books are indeed our brand!

I’m not mad at that association. Of course, there are many more things in a library’s collection than books, and librarians NEVER have time to “read on the job” like some people assume. It’s just… the lowest common denominator. Associating books with librarians is easy and predictable. As is this TV movie.

Her niece draws her a picture of her aunt in a library
Is that me? Of course, you’re a librarian, and you’re surrounded by books!
Reading a bedtime story to her niece Zoe
“We have some reading to do!”

9. WTF: “Maybe they’re right… Libraries are obsolete.”

At 14 1/2 minutes into this TV movie, Taylor is talking with her sister-in-law, Christine, about her love life, that she’s been dating these tech bros in Seattle. And then comes this line:

[T]he only books they read are on tiny little screens. But maybe they’re right. That, as much as I love what I do, libraries are obsolete.

W.T.F. Libraries are NOT obsolete, and no self-respecting librarian would ever say that. We librarians actually deal with constant changes in technology and ongoing reassessments of community needs, while also trying to preserve access to information in disparate, older formats. It takes skill to balance all that.

And it’s her brother and sister-in-law who push back on this! Craig responds, “Not as long as you have anything to say about it, right?,” and Christine says, “Somewhere out there, there’s a guy who’s gonna appreciate your love of books.” Why are all these supporting characters doing all the work of validating this central librarian character?! I’m sensing some White woman privilege here.

Taylor gets comforted by her sister-inlaw
I’m not given any agency or storyline of my own in this TV movie; rather, I’m just here to comfort your White woman tears about your love life.

10. Does everyone think librarians judge people by their reading choices?

Craig, to his wife: Did I ever tell you that my little sister, back in high school, wouldn’t date a guy unless he could name all three Brontë sisters?

Taylor: That’s not true. Two out of three was OK.

Craig, Christine, and Taylor at breakfast
Craig, Christine, and Taylor at breakfast

This exchange was part of the scene above, and I rolled my eyes at the thought that everyone — or at least, this screenwriter — assumes that librarians judge people by their reading choices or knowledge. Not all of us are literary snobs! (I personally love reading mysteries and YA fantasy fiction. But our cat is named Brontë, so perhaps the lady doth protest too much, methinks? … 😉 )

11. Yes, librarians do visit other libraries wherever they go.

Exterior shot of Forest Ridge Public Library building
A librarian visits another library… so meta!

At 20 minutes into the film, Taylor visits the local public library in Forest Ridge. This rang true for me. One of the first things I do when I visit a new place is to visit a local library.

Note: Bracebridge Public Library in the Ontario province, Canada, served as the filming location for the fictional Forest Ridge Public Library.

12. Do they get the call numbers right?

A closeup of Dewey Decimal call numbers
A closeup of Dewey Decimal call numbers

As Taylor enters the library, we get treated to a closeup of Dewey Decimal call numbers. This public library uses the Dewey Decimal classification system, which is common for public libraries, plus there are red Reference labels on the book spines. Hallmarks of actual library books! But they must be older library books, as it turns out that the 819 call number is no longer being used, at least not in the U.S. (but perhaps still in Canada?). The 810’s are used for American literature in English, and the 819 range used to be used for American puzzle books. Who knew?! 🙂

So they do get the call numbers mostly right in this TV movie. An A for effort. You can read more about call number shenanigans here in this post, and how you can spot the difference between a bookstore and a library here in this post.

13. Librarians deserve their own “meet cute” moment, too.

In this first public library scene, we get to meet another library director, Joyce, played by Darlene Cooke, a Black Canadian actress. Taylor and Joyce get their own librarians’ “meet cute” moment over a book display of “the greatest love stories of all time,” in which Taylor chooses Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, and Joyce convinces Taylor to get a library card in order to check out the book.

A librarians’ “meet cute” moment!

What purpose(s) does this scene serve? My guesses: To reinforce this Brontë thread that was introduced in the previous scene, and to introduce a way to get Taylor working at this library in order to stay in town.

And as lovely and warm as this “meet cute” moment is between the two librarians — and how appreciative I am that we are meeting multiple librarians of color in this TV movie! — I cannot help but notice that, once again, the persons of color seem to exist solely to direct attention toward Taylor (Joyce reveals that “Zoe always talks about her Aunt Taylor being a librarian too.”)

14. Is Anne Brontë the best Brontë?

The Brontë thread pays off in the next scene! At 23 minutes, Joel comes out of the coffee shop as Taylor walks by with her library book.

Joel and Taylor meet up on the sidewalk after Taylor has checked out a library book
Are we having our second “meet cute” moment?

Taylor: I just stopped by the library and got myself a card [shows her book, Wuthering Heights]

Joel: Ohhh! That’s a good choice, although I’ve always been more of a Charlotte fan.

Taylor: Charlotte?

Joel: Charlotte Brontë. instead of Emily. You know, Jane Eyre.

Taylor: But we cannot forget their favorite sister.

Joel: And how could we ever forget Anne? Oh, I love Anne!

Taylor: You’re full of a lot of surprises, aren’t you?

I also personally prefer Jane Eyre. (Don’t @ me, Wuthering Heights fans. We can co-exist.) And is Anne the best Brontë? I should finally get around to reading my copy of Anne Brontë’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall… if there are any die-hard Anne Brontë fans reading this right now, please leave a comment! Also, it’s hilarious to me that no one ever mentions their brother, Branwell Brontë.

Also, how many “meet cute” moments does Taylor need?! This movie is working VERY hard to convince us that it’s actually a romance and that Taylor and Joel have chemistry together. (I’m not convinced. And I’m not the only one. In this online review of the movie, the critic observes that “Taylor … isn’t in search of love as much as she is in search of a job.” )

15. A third of the way into this movie, we finally arrive at the central conflict and plot device.

The next scene takes place at the community center, in which city councillors are holding public comments on the proposed permits to turn the 100-year-old Graff Hotel into a glossy new “destination” resort. The problem? Taylor’s brother works at (or manages?) the Graff Hotel, and Joel is the one who has bought the hotel. Taylor is conflicted! But then Taylor has her BIG IDEA.

Joel and Taylor at the city council meeting
Taylor and Joel are at odds

Taylor: Isn’t the Graff Hotel 100 years old? So that means it’s eligible for a landmark status.

Phyllis (played by Andrea Davis, a Black American actress): For landmark status, the state of Montana says we have to prove that a significant historical event took place involving the building.

Joel: That’s exactly right. Thank you, Phyllis. And according to our research, there’s no evidence of that with the Graff Hotel.

Taylor: Well, who did this research? […] So you’re saying that if we find a significant event happened at the Graff, then the hotel would be preserved?

Phyllis: According to the state of Montana, yes.

Craig: Phyllis, maybe we could take some time to explore this before the council makes their final decision?

Phyllis: All right, this is what we’ll do. We’ll take a week to look this over, then we’ll reconvene and hear what everyone has to say. Any objections?

Ah hah! This is where it pays off that Taylor’s a librarian, and that she knows her way around research. Librarians to the rescue!

16. Is this movie correct about the qualifications for landmark status in Montana?

City council chairwoman Phyllis commands attention at the community meeting
City council chairwoman Phyllis commands attention at the community meeting

So Phyllis, the city council chairwoman, stated above that, “For landmark status, the state of Montana says we have to prove that a significant historical event took place involving the building.” Is this accurate?

Yes and no. Yes: one of the criteria for landmark status is association with a significant historical event. No: that’s not the ONLY criteria to be considered for landmark status.

According to the National Register of Historic Places page on Montana’s official state government website, there are four criteria for consideration:

1. Be associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of our history; or

2. Be associated with the lives of persons significant in our past; or

3. Embody the distinctive characteristics of a type, period or method of construction, or that represent the work of a master, or that possess high artistic values or that represent a significant and distinguishable entity whose components may lack individual distinction; or

4. Have yielded, or may likely to yield, information important in prehistory or history. In addition, properties must possess a high degree of integrity to qualify for listing in the Register – in other words, they must be relatively unchanged in appearance from the historic period.

I mean, y’all knew I would look this up, right?! Right. I’m glad y’all know me so well. 😀

17. I guessed correctly about the part-time library job opportunity!

This TV movie is very predictable. Thirty-eight minutes in, Joyce asks Taylor to work part-time at the library.

Joyce asks Taylor to work part-time at the public library
Your niece Zoe gave you a great reference. Would you like to work part-time at the library?

Joyce: Are you enjoying your visit with Catherine and Heathcliff?

Taylor: Very much. 

Joyce: I was thinking, my part-time librarian recently moved to Denver, and I’ve been looking someone to help out around here, if you’re interested.

Taylor:Oh, I mean, that would be amazing, I just… I don’t know how long I’m here for. 

Joyce: Well, while you are here, I could sure use your help. […] Come by tomorrow and we’ll get you started.

My next prediction? Taylor’s going to use the library’s resources to research the Graff Hotel. But uh, that’s not the same thing as working in the library. This is just being used as a plot excuse.

18. In two minutes, you can get a job AND a date!

At this point, my husband, Sam, joined me. He stayed long enough to comment on this next scene, in which Joel and Taylor have YET ANOTHER “meet cute” moment. Joel asks her for reader’s advisory recommendations as a way to actually ask her out on a date.

Joel and Taylor at the public library
Can I get some librarian help over here?

Joel: I was wondering if you could help me find a book. You see, I finished this one. Again.

Taylor: Jane Eyre. That’s impressive.

Joel: And I’m looking for something a little different. I figured, who better to ask than a librarian?

Taylor: Well, I don’t officially work here yet.

Joel [looking around and lowering his voice to a whisper]: Well, then we’ll make it unofficial. 

Here is Sam’s tongue-in-cheek reaction to Joel essentially shushing himself:

Sam: She hasn’t even shushed him yet! Librarians are professionals. You can’t just shush yourself. You have to WAIT to be shushed.

Me: I’ve written so many posts in which patrons shush each other. [Example: The school library scene in Netflix’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before]

Sam: Each other, yes. But not themselves. It’s a totally different thing to shush each other.

Me: 🙄

Sam: You are welcome for my contributions to this viewing experience. I am making this movie better.

Indeed.

19. “That’s not how any of this works!”

After three (!!!) “meet cute” moments, Taylor and Joel finalllllly go on a date, to a private dinner at the Graff Hotel. As they get to know each other beyond their mutual love of the Brontë sisters, we learn that Taylor doesn’t know the difference between library volunteers and actual, paid librarian professionals.

Craig and I grew up in Seattle. He’s actually the reason I got my first librarian job. […] We were in high school, and this one summer, our local library was looking for a volunteer, and I wanted the job more than anything, so Craig took the bus all the way downtown so that he could go talk to the head librarian, and he told him that no one loves books as much as I do, and that he would never have even opened a book if it weren’t for me. He must have been really convincing because I got the job, and… he’s been there for me ever since.

Sam beat me to it:

That’s not how any of this works! Volunteers are not the same thing as librarians!

I’m sure this backstory confessional had good intentions, but it unfortunately serves to reinforce the misconceptions that (1) loving books is the only requirement for a librarian, (2) anyone working in a library is a librarian, and (3) that you don’t have to pay librarians a fair wage. Real-life librarians are professionals with actual training and graduate-level education, and we deserve to be recognized and paid as professionals.

20. Yep, primary sources are important for historical research.

At 50 minutes into this TV movie, we get a library tour with Joyce — presumably on Taylor’s first day working at the public library — and OF COURSE Taylor asks about local history and primary sources. Joyce leads her to the archives room. So yes, the part-time librarian job IS a convenient plot device for Taylor to have time and access to research the Graff Hotel.

A glimpse at the public library's archives room
A glimpse at the public library’s archives room

Taylor: The best way of digging up the hotel’s history was from some local sources. Perhaps a first person’s account?

Joyce: Much better than searching the internet, yes. 

Taylor: And, considering you know the area so well, I was hoping you could point me in the right direction.

Joyce: Ah! I may have one idea. [takes her to the archives room]

Joyce: Over the years, the library’s collected a kind of archive of the town’s history. [points] Newspapers, photographs, letters and diaries. 

Taylor: What do you do with all these?

Joyce: Well, the plan was to have it digitized and online, but as you can see, we haven’t made much progress. If you think it can help. 

Taylor: It looks like a great place to start.

My next prediction is that Taylor’s going to parlay her short-term, part-time job into a long-term job digitizing the archives!

21. Pay attention to signage.

The library signage (newspapers and periodicals) doesn't match what's in the shelves (children's books)
The library signage (newspapers and periodicals) doesn’t match what’s in the shelves (children’s books)

Along the way to the archives room, we do get some glimpses of other parts of the public library, including this children’s book zone. But the signage on the ends of the bookcases says “newspapers back issues” and “periodicals back issues.” My guess is that the real-life library did have periodicals in this part of the library, but the set dressers moved children’s books into this area to be more visually dynamic and colorful — but then forgot to remove the signs off the ends of the bookcases.

Details matter.

22. Is Taylor the luckiest librarian in Montana?

At 56 mins, Taylor goes back to the hotel to see her brother. Craig asks how the search is going, and Taylor responds that “I’m hoping something turns up.” The pair then stroll by the old maids’ quarters — which have apparently just been serving as storage for the past hundred years? — and Taylor starts looking around the wardrobes and drawers.

The plot is too predictable… I think it will come as no surprise to you that within 30 seconds, Taylor finds EXACTLY the evidence she was hoping would turn up, an old scrapbook of letters and photographs from a maid who worked at the hotel in the early 1900s — including a photograph of Teddy Roosevelt in front of the hotel! Historical significance and landmark status, I can smell you coming down the research trail. Zero stars for predictability, but a gold star for depicting primary sources as discovered treasure!

Taylor finds an old scrapbook of letters and photos
I am the fastest research librarian in Montana!
A closeup of an historical photograph
Primary sources, like photographs and letters, for the win!

23. Librarians are like private detectives.

The next 10 minutes reveal how there are so many similarities between librarians and private detectives. (If you need more evidence, see this post, this post, and this post.)

I won’t get into all the details, but we next get a scene with Taylor, Joyce, and Craig in the public library’s archives room, and Taylor brandishes a magnifying glass to show the others how the photo is of Teddy Roosevelt during his time as U.S. President, between 1901 and 1909. (“Now that we know the timeframe, we can just narrow down the dates.”)

Taylor uses a magnifying glass to show Joyce and Craig that the historical photograph includes Teddy Roosevelt
If I told you I was Nancy Drew, y’all would believe me

In the next scene, Taylor uses clues in the photograph to discover the probable reason Roosevelt was in Forest Ridge (a freak snowstorm in springtime).

24. Yes, librarians seek help from other librarians.

Taylor then reveals to Craig that she has a friend, Caitlin, who works at the National Archives in Washington DC. (Do you think Caitlin knows Dr. Abby Chase?!)

So I emailed her [Caitlin] the photo and she said she was going to search the records to see all the traveling that the president did during that time… She said she would get back to me as soon as possible, but I think it’s looking good.

Do we have any doubt that the information she gets from Caitlin will be exactly what she needs to save the hotel? I don’t think so!

And yes, librarians do get help from colleagues and other librarians, archivists, and information professionals. We take our own advice; when we’re stuck in a research dead end, we ask each other for help!

25. A librarian gets a Poirot moment.

Reinforcing that link between librarians and private detectives… just like the literary private detective Hercule Poirot loves a rapt audience when he solves the mystery at the end of an Agatha Christie novel (I told you I like mysteries), Taylor gets her Poirot moment at the city council meeting, when she gets to reveal the hotel’s historical significance.

Taylor has her Poirot moment at the city council meeting
Librarians also have presentation skills, y’all

And this movie drags this out to the wire — complete with frantic texting and her brother knocking over the microphone stand to stall for time– even though there is zero suspense about what the outcome will be. (What I find most interesting during this bit are glimpses of the evidence Taylor was compiling on her laptop, including 1903 Montana weather maps and historical photos of 1900s Montana. Again, primary sources for the win!)

Here’s how Taylor’s Poirot moment goes down, complete with a slideshow, historic photographs, handwritten letters, diary entries, and official government documents:

Phyllis, city council chairwoman [to Craig]: Being old doesn’t qualify a building for landmark status. I’m afraid unless you have something new to add, you’re going to have to yield the floor.

Taylor [rushing into the community center]: I may be able to help with that! I think I may have found proof that shows that the Graff Hotel deserves to be a historic landmark. […] In April 1903, [the hotel maid] Mary Catherine had her photograph taken next to President Theodore Roosevelt in front of the Graff Hotel. 

Phyllis: Teddy Roosevelt was in Forest Ridge?

Taylor: That spring, he was at Yellowstone National Park to lay the cornerstone of the Roosevelt Arches, which still stand at the north entrance today. Teddy loved this part of the West more than anything, so he decided to stay and do a little bit more exploring. What nobody was expecting was that it was going to be the coldest spring on record. A freak snowstorm rolled in, leaving three feet of snow, leaving Teddy and his entire crew stranded just outside forest Ridge. By the time that the party made it back into town they spent three nights at the Graff Hotel until the roads were clear.

Phyllis: And you have proof of all this?

Taylor: I do, actually. Right here, I have a diary entry from Roosevelt. He kept one most of his life, and in April 1903, he wrote: “Snowed in at a little scrappy town called Forest Ridge. Beautiful country. Good and amiable folk. Stayed at the Graff Hotel. Best three nights of sleep in years…

But it wasn’t just the Graff that inspired him. It was… Forest Ridge. It was Montana. It was this entire part of the country and its people and the culture that inspired him while he was snowed in. So, shortly after he went back to Washington, he decided to sign the Antiquities Act, which gave him and all the future presidents the power to preserve the beautiful country of ours so that future generations could enjoy everything that he had. By making the Graff Hotel a historic landmark, we are not only celebrating Roosevelt’s legacy, we are celebrating the spirit that makes this city, this country so special. Thank you.

The city council announces that they will be applying to the state of Montana for the Graff Hotel to be granted landmark status. The town erupts in applause, while Craig hugs his sister who just saved the hotel! Librarians are heroes!

As a librarian, I appreciate this scene because of its focus on research, but I suspect that not everyone does. This reviewer commented that “Some scenes take place only to deliver information rather than emotions.”)

This presentation lasts 3 minutes total, with 10 minutes remaining in the film, just enough time for Taylor and Joel to wrap up their supposed romance.

26. How historically accurate was all that?

A (fictional) diary entry about Forest Ridge by Teddy Roosevelt
They didn’t even try to match Teddy Roosevelt’s actual handwriting

I do appreciate how confident Taylor is in her Poirot moment — and the suspension of disbelief in how quickly she set up her laptop to project onto the big TV screen! — but you know I had to wonder, how historically accurate was her evidence? So yes, I paused the movie to spend time digging into the possibilities and online archives of Teddy Roosevelt’s presidential papers.

So all in all, even if not totally historically accurate — I mean, Forest Ridge is a fictional town — then it is, for the most part, historically probable for the purposes of this film’s plot. A solid B, with marks off for the handwriting mismatch and fudging of the dates.

27. The real romance is not between Taylor and Joel.

The final few minutes of the TV movie try to create suspense about whether or not Taylor will stay in Forest Ridge and whether or not she and Joel will get together. For me, the ending didn’t hold much interest — except for when I realized there was a(n unintended?) love triangle. Before Taylor goes to the Harvest Ball, we learn that she has been offered the Seattle research librarian job again (“The library in Seattle called and they want me back”). A woman’s love story with primary sources… which archives will she choose, the Seattle reference library or the archives room of the Forest Ridge Public Library?

Taylor’s joyful face when she’s researching in the Forest Ridge Public Library archives sealed the deal, right? 😉

Taylor in the archives room
I love digitizing archives!

And my final evidence for the TRUE love story of a librarian and her primary sources is in the final closeup at the end: A framed photo of the couple kissing alongside framed primary sources, including the Teddy Roosevelt photograph and historical letters!

The final shot of the movie, framed photographs and letters
The photograph of the kiss is the smallest frame on this wall… just sayin’

28. Is Montana this ethnically diverse?

This TV movie did seem to be making an effort to make this small town in Montana quite ethnically diverse. Two Black Americans are serving on the city council, including Phyllis as the council chairperson; Craig’s family is multiracial; Craig mentions that Forest Ridge was his wife’s hometown; Craig works with a woman of Asian descent at the hotel; and there seems to be a racially diverse array of townspeople at the city council meeting.

An ethnically diverse audience at the city council meeting
An ethnically diverse audience at the city council meeting

I couldn’t help but wonder if Montana is this ethnically diverse? So I looked up the most recent census records for Montana, and per 2021 estimates, the White population in Montana totals almost 89%. The Black population in Montana clocks in at .6%. So it would seem that this TV town is more ethnically diverse onscreen than it would be in real life. But I also researched if there was a history of Buffalo Soldiers in Montana — Buffalo Soldiers were Black American soldiers during the Civil War and into the 20th century — and lo and behold, I learned that many of the Buffalo Soldiers resettled in Montana after the Spanish-American War and also served as the state’s first park rangers. Very interesting!

Although I applaud the attempt at onscreen diversity in this TV movie’s cast list, I also noticed that the people of color do not have distinctive backstories or experiences of their own. We only hear about Christine growing up in Montana because Craig mentioned it. We learn nothing personal about Taylor’s niece Zoe and perhaps how it feels to grow up biracial; she exists solely to set up plot points for Taylor. We learn nothing about Craig’s Asian co-worker. And Joyce’s main function seems to be to react to Taylor’s research findings. Everyone is very pleasant to each other, and there are no overt racist acts, but it’s like the TV movie is striving to be colorblind. They don’t mention race at all. It’s like “Montana nice,” ultimately making the onscreen diversity very surface-level… only skin-deep, so to speak.

As Ibram X. Kendi, who wrote the 2019 book How to Be An Antiracist, stated in an interview:

People who say they don’t see race are, “not seeing the diversity of humanity, whether that diversity is about skin color, or hair texture, or culture.”

I also cannot help but recall Sandra Oh’s comments in a recent interview in People and how her words also apply to this movie:

Progress is not sticking a bunch of people of color [into a show or movie] and having them speak like everyone else.

29. This movie is NOT a “winter romance”

On a lighter note, I’m assuming that this TV movie’s title got rebranded to A Winter Romance because of the popularity of Christmas-themed TV romances during the end-of-year holidays. But it’s clear throughout the film that “An Autumn Romance” is a much more appropriate title. I mean, the central social event in the movie is the “Harvest Ball,” for goodness sake, and each set is drowning in orange-and red-colored leaves, pumpkins, and sunflowers.

Autumn decorations for the Harvest Ball
I thought I was starring in a movie called “An Autumn Romance”

30. These librarians have style

I also have to point out how every librarian in this TV movie has their own distinctive style.

I love the patterns and bright colors here in this screenshot from the Seattle research library:

Three librarians onscreen at the same time! They are also stylish in their own ways, in either bright colors or dynamic patterns.
Three librarians onscreen at the same time! They are also stylish in their own ways, in either bright colors or dynamic patterns.

Joyce sports long necklaces and free-flowing silhouettes throughout the movie, including in her black floral evening wear at the Harvest Ball:

Joyce at the Harvest Ball
I would wear Joyce’s black floral caftan and long gold pendant necklace

And Taylor rocks amazing coats and jackets throughout the movie:

I will definitely have to add to my stylish female reel librarians post one of these days!

31. Was this movie good? It doesn’t really matter.

This movie has quite a few positives, including several library- and librarian-focused scenes that I have rarely seen onscreen, including the repeated joy Taylor expresses when researching and looking through historical documents and primary sources. And the fact that Taylor is a librarian is absolutely critical to this movie’s plot, which is why it ends up in the Class I category of films.

There are also several negatives, which I’ve detailed in this post, including the surface-level view of librarian qualifications as well as the missed opportunities to explore the community’s diversity. The screenplay is super predictable, and the central romance between Taylor and Joel is not very compelling.

Do these positives and negatives cancel each other out? Is this a good movie? No, not really. But in the end, it doesn’t really matter. I do not begrudge anyone who watches and enjoys this kind of lightweight romance, especially in these turbulent, stressful times. But perhaps highlighting my own thoughts and questions and research tangents that came up while I was watching this movie can spur some deeper thoughts and questions — and research explorations! — of your own.


Have you seen this TV movie? Do you like this kind of post? Would you like to see more of these stream-of-consciousness types of posts? Please leave a comment and share!

Sources used

Lovecraft Country’s ‘A History of Violence’ and segregated libraries

“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 [2020]. “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.”

From “‘Lovecraft Country’: See First Trailer for Jordan Peele-Produced HBO Horror Series” by Daniel Kreps, Rolling Stone, 1 May 2020

Here’s a look at Episode 4, “A History of Violence,” which includes a scene in a library!

Lovecraft Country: Season 1 Episode 4 Promo | HBO” video uploaded by HBO, Standard YouTube License

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 exterior of the Southside Colored Library, as seen in Episode 4 of "Lovecraft Country"
The exterior of the Southside Colored Library, as seen in Episode 4 of “Lovecraft Country”

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.)

A bird's-eye view of the library and reel librarian
A bird’s-eye view of the library and reel librarian

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! 😀

As film critic Steffan Triplett wrote:

Give the boy in the library a YA spinoff!

Lovecraft Country Recap: Disappointment Above, Disappointment Below” by Steffan Triplett, Vulture, 6 Sept. 2020
A young boy shushes Leti and Tic in the library
Shhhhh! I’m reading Journey to the Center of the Earth, which foreshadows the rest of the episode!

Ok, back to the episode!

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.

Tic and Leti converse in the library stacks
Can you feel that kid’s eyes on me? He’s gonna shush us again!

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.

Tic: No.

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 and Tic discuss research leads in the library
Leti and Tic discuss research leads in the library

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?

Tic: Shit!

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!

The young boy shushes Tic for a second time in the library!
I said, Shhhhh!

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 Scaredy-Cat Recap Of Lovecraft Country Episode 4: ‘A History Of Violence‘” by R. Eric Thomas, Elle, 7 Sept. 2020

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.

Lovecraft Country fact vs. fiction: Segregated public libraries” by Sabrina Reed, Fansided, 8 Sept. 2020

While thinking about and writing this post, I couldn’t help but also think back to a post I wrote earlier this year, about the ‘The African American Struggle for Library Equality: The Untold Story of the Julius Rosenwald Fund Library Program’ video lecture presented by Dr. Aisha M. Johnson for the Augusta Baker Lecture Diversity Series. In this lecture, Dr. Johnson detailed how “Being a librarian was something of honor for the African American community.” Again, a reminder of how much representation matters, onscreen and off.

Have you watched Lovecraft Country? Did you remember the library scene in Episode 4? Did the “Cute Kid in Glasses” make you smile? Please leave a comment and share!

Sources used

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