Law librarian failure in ‘Philadelphia’ (1993)

Last week, in a 6-3 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court declared that federal employment discrimination law, Title VII, protects gay and transgender employees. It’s a historic ruling — one long overdue! — and Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote the majority opinion. And it’s even sweeter for this ruling to come during Pride Month. You can read more about the decision here on the SCOTUS blog. We still have a long way to go when it comes to LGBTQ+ rights, but this moment is one to savor.

It also got me thinking about the 1993 film, Philadelphia, which earned Tom Hanks his first Best Actor Oscar for portraying Andrew Beckett, a lawyer who gets fired from his law firm after his homosexuality and AIDS diagnosis are discovered by his law partners. With the help of lawyer Joe Miller (Denzel Washington), Beckett sues his law firm for wrongful dismissal. This film was released 27 years ago — repeat, 27! YEARS! AGO! — and only now, in 2020, would Beckett be recognized under Title VII protections.

Here is a trailer for the film, if it’s been a while since you’ve seen it. The movie is available to rent via Amazon Prime.

Philadelphia – Trailer” video uploaded by YouTube Movies, Standard YouTube License

Law library scene

At first, Miller does not want to help represent Beckett, so Beckett has to start researching on his own. And that leads us to a pivotal scene at a law library, which comes in at about a quarter of the way through the film. Beckett is researching materials in a law library, and Miller is at a nearby table.

A reel librarian, played by Tracey Walter, approaches Beckett with a book on AIDS discrimination he has found for him. The librarian, who is white and male, looks to be in his 40s, with thin, balding hair. He is conservatively dressed, in a sweater, tie, and button-front shirt, and he is not wearing glasses. Beckett thanks him for the book, but the librarian does not leave.

Law librarian in a scene from Philadelphia, 1993
Another version of the “librarian stare” in Philadelphia (1993)

Let’s listen in:

Librarian: We do have a private research room available.

Beckett: I’m fine right here, thank you.

Another patron then approaches the table and asks the librarian for help finding a case. The librarian tells him, “Just a moment, I’ll be right with you.” He then turns back to Beckett, sighs heavily, wipes his chin, and then leans in slightly in order to place his hand on the library table.

Wide photo of the library scene in Philadelphia, 1993
Another patron approaches the librarian in this scene from Philadelphia (1993)

Librarian: Wouldn’t you be more comfortable in a research room?

Beckett [looks around and coughs]: No. Would it make you more comfortable?

Miller then gathers his stuff and walks over to Beckett.

Miller: Beckett, how you doing?

Beckett: Counselor. Huh.

Beckett then stares back at the librarian, who then looks up at Miller. Miller stares down the librarian and, in a gesture of challenge, nods his head. The librarian then drops his eyes to Beckett.

Librarian (to Beckett): Whatever, sir.

The librarian turns to leave, and then so does the other patron sitting at Beckett’s table. Miller stays to review the material that Beckett has gathered, and he decides to take the case.

The scene lasts two minutes and was filmed at the Fisher Fine Arts Library, in the Furness Building on the University of Pennsylvania campus in Philadelphia. As it’s a pivotal scene — one that sets up the rest of the film — and the librarian makes an (unfortunately) memorable impression, this film and librarian portrayal land in the Class III category, films in which the librarian(s) plays a secondary role, including a minor character in a memorable or significant scene.

You can watch the entire library scene here in this YouTube video:

Philadelphia (2/8) Movie CLIP – More Comfortable (1993) HD” video uploaded by Movieclips, Standard YouTube License

Assessing this library scene and its significance

This scene is awkward, and purposefully so. There’s not a lot of dialogue in this scene, but a whole lot of long stares, silence, and sub-text that speak volumes in-between the gaps of spoken text. The camera angles also shift, reflecting each person’s perspective. I want to break down what I imagine is happening with each major character in this scene: the law librarian, Miller, and Beckett. Full disclosure: I am writing from the perspective of a white, cisgender woman, so my perspectives are limited. If you have alternative, different, and/or more nuanced ideas of what’s happening in this scene, please leave a comment and share!

Law librarian (Tracey Walter):

What is going on in this reel librarian’s head as he decides to keep standing and asking Beckett if he wants a private room? He’s clearly connected the dots between the request for an AIDS discrimination case and Beckett, who is visibly pale, with watery eyes and a cap to cover what is presumably a bald head. The librarian believes Beckett himself has AIDS. Therefore, I can imagine he is rationalizing to himself that he is being kind to this patron, by framing his recommendation as a question (“Wouldn’t you be more comfortable…?”) rather than as a command. I can also imagine that he is rationalizing to himself that he is protecting other patrons from this person who has AIDS. These kinds of rationalizations reflect the time period and the uninformed attitudes about AIDS, but they are not excuses for discrimination.

I wonder what’s going on in this reel librarian’s head as he processes the collective stare-downs from Beckett and Miller. Who has the power in this situation at the beginning, and does that shift during this scene? I think the librarian is weighing his options and ultimately decides that it’s not worth his effort to continue trying to hassle Beckett into a private room, because (a) he’s outnumbered, and (b) he doesn’t want to call attention to himself and also be accused of racism — although when it was just homophobia, he was fine with it — because it’s clear Miller, a Black man, is a lawyer and supports Beckett. In that moment, the power shifts from the librarian to Miller and Beckett, and it’s all done through stare-downs and sub-text.

The librarian also tries to have the last word in this low-key stand-off, but it’s weak: “Whatever, sir.” He also sighs and shrugs as he turns away. It’s clear that he hasn’t learned any positive lesson from this interaction.

The camera angles used in this scene also make the audience feel like we’re in Beckett’s position, too, and that we’re being looked down on by the librarian.

Joe Miller (Denzel Washington):

At the beginning of this scene, Miller stops chewing, and his entire body gets very still. He recognizes the librarian’s discrimination even before Beckett does.

After overhearing the librarian recommending a private room, he pushes his stack of books in front of him. Why? To disassociate himself from the situation? To assess the situation without being spotted himself? To deflect any other discrimination the librarian may be tempted to dish out? To see and assess how Beckett handles himself in that situation?

When he overhears Beckett standing up to the librarian, that’s when Miller’s face shifts and changes. That’s when he stands up and joins Beckett. Miller, a Black man, faces discrimination due to the color of his skin. Beckett is facing discrimination due to his sexuality and AIDS status. Together, they are stronger.

Andrew Beckett (Tom Hanks):

Beckett seems to be taken aback at first by the librarian’s reaction. Beckett thanks the librarian warmly at the beginning of the scene for the book he requested, and then he settles back into working. But he quickly reassesses the situation when the librarian will not leave.

He does not allow the librarian to put the onus on him regarding the private room. Instead, Beckett redirects the librarian’s question back onto the librarian: “Would it make you [the librarian] more comfortable?” He’s not going to play this game that the librarian is trying to play. He is calling out the librarian and his real motives.

Beckett also ensures the librarian knows that Miller is a lawyer. When Miller comes over, Beckett pauses before referring to him as “Counselor.” Such a smart move! This signals to the librarian that he’s up against two lawyers, and he, the law librarian, is not going to win this fight today.

Why this scene matters

It is a small battle, sure, but this is no ordinary fight — this is a battle of wills, a battle against discrimination. This scene sets up an ordinary, everyday kind of discrimination, in perhaps the least likely place: a law library. Libraries are usually viewed as safe, quiet spaces. But even in a so-called “safe” space, biases and discrimination and micro-aggressions lurk. And it’s important to show to the audience that neither Beckett nor Miller will allow this small act of discrimination to go unchallenged. If the audience can understand and buy into the fact that this librarian was wrong in this small act of discrimination, then they can understand that the bigger acts of discrimination, like being fired, are wrong, too. It is a pivotal moment in the film, and this film reflected a pivotal moment at that time, when we needed mainstream films that humanized gay men, that exposed the everyday discrimination that LGBTQ+ persons faced (and continue to face), and pushed back against the baseless fears that people at that time had about AIDS and homosexuality.

It is not like we’re post-discrimination today — we are in the streets protesting against discrimination right now — but films and moments like these are important in broadening the message of inclusivity and exposing the ripple effects of discrimination and micro-aggressions.

I wrote this in the post I wrote for the I Love Libraries blog last month:

I’ve witnessed a shift in films highlighting, even in smaller roles, how librarians can reflect social biases and discrimination—and how librarians, and society at large, are in the wrong for doing so.

This statement is applicable here, too. The reel librarian in Philadelphia (1993) is demonstrating anti-LGBTQ+ bias. Plain and simple — and oh-so-devastating. He reflects society at large in this moment. As such, he serves as Information Provider. He is providing information to the audience that LGBTQ+ discrimination can, and does, happen anywhere. Even in a library. Even from a librarian. It is a sad and uncomfortable truth that librarians can be as discriminatory as anyone else, which is especially disheartening because our job is to help people.

This month, our country is better for expanding employment rights and protections to gay and transgendered people. But we cannot cease fighting for progress, equality, and equity. And we cannot shy away from our own failings, reel and real, past and present.

Sources used

A reel librarian returns in ‘Major League II’ (1994)

Last month, in the “Spring training and special collections in ‘Major League’ (1989)” post, we ran the bases delving into the reel librarian character in Major League (1989). In that film, Rene Russo — in her feature film debut! — plays Lynn Wells, the world-class swimmer-turned-special collections librarian. Going through Russo’s film credits, I hadn’t realized she also returned in the sequel, Major League II (1994). It felt fitting, therefore, to continue the spring training. Shall we?

Major League II was available to watch for free via Amazon Prime.

*MILD SPOILERS BELOW*

“Major League II (1994) Official Trailer – Charlie Sheen, Tom Berenger Sports Comedy Movie HD” video uploaded by Movieclips Classic Trailers, Standard YouTube license

The sequel, although released 5 years after the original (and far superior!) film, is set just one year later, as radio commentator Harry Doyle (Bob Uecker) gets us all caught up. Omar Epps has replaced Wesley Snipes as Willie Mays Hays, Rick “Wild Thing” Vaughn (Charlie Sheen) has sold out to corporate sponsorship, and Roger Dorn (Corbin Bernsen) has retired and is the new owner of the Cleveland Indians team. Will they make it to the World Series this year? No pennants for correct guesses. 😉 This sequel is strictly by-the-numbers, with no surprises, or originality.

The sequel begins again during spring training, and catcher Jake Taylor (Tom Berenger) learns he has been cut from the team. His knees have finally given out, but he’s been mentoring a younger player. Therefore, Dorn and head coach Lou Brown (James Gammon) ask him to join the team as an assistant coach.

At 19 minutes into the film, he finds himself at home with Lynn. They’re seated around the kitchen table, talking about his future.

Jake and Lynn talk about his future prospects, in an early scene from Major League II (1994)
Jake and Lynn talk about his future prospects, in an early scene from Major League II (1994)

Jake: Called everywhere, but nobody’s looking for a 41-year-old catcher with bad knees.

Lynn: Well, it’s not like you don’t have other options. Alan Bellows wants you to join his brokerage firm.

Jake: And Jack Pursoff wants me to head up one of his Pepsi distributorships.

Lynn: And you’d be close to home.

Jake: Yeah, and I’d make a hell of a lot more money than I would as a coach. So what if I never made it to a World Series?

Lynn: Well, I think it’s pretty obvious what you ought to do.

Lynn says this last line softly and in close-up. This scene only lasts a minute, and Lynn has three lines total, but she makes them count. It’s clear that they are still committed to each other, and she supports Jake going back to the team. Plus, this scene sets up the World Series plotline. Reel librarians are so efficient! 😉

One last look at Lynn, the world-class athlete-turned-special collections librarian
One last look at Lynn, the world-class athlete-turned-special collections librarian

We NEVER see Lynn again in this film. Russo’s star had risen in-between the original film and the sequel — she had co-starred in Lethal Weapon 3 in 1992 and In the Line of Fire in 1993, and she was gearing up for the one-two punch of Outbreak and Get Shorty in 1995 — so I suppose they were lucky to get her for one day to make this cameo. It’s odd, though, to me that Rene Russo went uncredited for this cameo.

And of course, there’s no mention of any library in this short scene. You would never know from watching this sequel that Lynn is a librarian. But because we know that from the original film, I’m classifying this sequel as a Class IV film, in which reel librarians make a cameo appearance.

Had you forgotten about the Major League II sequel? Did you ever know that a third outing, Major League: Back to the Minors (1998) even existed?! If you’re tempted to watch the sequels, I would suggest just going back and rewatching the original comedy classic!

Sources used

  • Major League II. Dir. David S. Ward. Perf. Tom Berenger, Charlie Sheen, Corbin Bernsen. Warner Bros., 1994.

Library research montage in 'The Manchurian Candidate' (2004) remake

“I got my library card… I do my research, too.”

As many of us are still self-isolating and sheltering in place because of the coronavirus — we’re all still washing our hands and practicing social distancing, yes?! — and most likely still seeking out things to watch via various streaming services, I thought it appropriate to only write about movies that are available via a streaming service (at least at the time of my publishing the post). This week, I’m analyzing the 2004 remake of The Manchurian Candidate, which is available via Amazon Prime’s HBO channel.

The original The Manchurian Candidate film, released in 1962 and starring Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey, and Angela Lansbury, is a classic. The remake? Not so much. Not even great actors like Denzel Washington, Liev Schreiber, Jeffrey Wright, and Meryl Streep can lift this remake into anything more than a competent thriller. But there is one thing the 2004 remake has that the original film does not… a reel librarian! 😉

Denzel Washington plays the role that Frank Sinatra played in the original, Major Ben Marco, who knows something is rotten in the state of Denmark the United States.

Getting into the public library

At 1 hour and 20 minutes into the 130-minute film, Marco goes to a public library to investigate the Manchurian Global corporation. At first, it looks like he has wandered into a science museum, as the lobby is filled with scientific posters and genome models. Turns out, it’s the New York Public Library’s Science, Industry and Business Library (SBIL) branch!

Lobby of the NYPL's Science, Industry and Business Library
Lobby of the NYPL’s Science, Industry and Business Library

Marco then poses for a picture for a library visitor pass. We then get treated to a closeup of the library employee, a younger black woman, handling the visitor passes.

Library Clerk role in The Manchurian Candidate (2004)
Smile! You’re on candid camera!

Duana Butler plays the “Library Clerk” role, and she gets two lines in this cameo role:

Smile if you like. This will just take a minute.

As we see in the closeup of Marco’s library visitor pass below, he did NOT feel like smiling on this trip to the library. (You can just make out “The New York Public Library” text above his photograph on the visitor pass.)

Visitor pass to the NYPL

It turns out that this is the only reel librarian we will see in this library scene… before Marco even sets foot into the library!

I thought it interesting to highlight a reel librarian outside the actual library. Is this an interesting, albeit brief, take on the “librarian as gatekeeper” role? Is the director purposely mirroring the expressionless face of the Library Clerk with the equally expressionless face of Marco on his visitor badge? Is it possible I’m overthinking this reel librarian cameo role? 😉

Cue the research montage

Although we never again see a librarian, we do get treated to Marco conducting research via several different library resources and services, including:

  • a microfilm machine
  • a copy machine
  • headphones to listen to Rosie’s tapes
  • a computer to conduct a Google search on the internet

We also get a closeup of the mousepad, which officially reveals that Marco is at the New York Public Library’s Science, Industry and Business Library (SIBL) branch.

I also visited SIBL’s website, which highlights their amenities, including computers for public use, photocopiers, and scanners/reading machines. Marco definitely got the most out of this library!

Closeup of the NYPL Science, Industry and Business Library mousepad

Although libraries are generally seen as safe spaces — in real AND reel life — I thought it interesting to note that the director, Jonathan Demme, chose to highlight the library’s security cameras. The black-and-white shot below is mimicking the security camera’s feed. The message seems to be that no place is safe, NOT EVEN the public library!

Security camera feed in the NYPL
Someone is always watching… even in a public library!

Purpose of library scene

This library scene lasts 4 minutes total, and the primary purpose of the scene is to propel the plot forward, as Marco then acts on the clues and information he discovered during his research.

Although the only thing the reel librarian did was issue a library visitor pass, she did help establish the library setting. Therefore, she fulfilled the basic Information Provider role in this Class IV film.

About 10 minutes later, Marco confronts Rosie with what he found out at the library.

I got my library card, and I got your tapes. I do my research, too.

Have you done YOUR research?! 😉

Sources used

Law librarian sighting in ‘Fatal Attraction’

So THAT’s where one confesses to adultery, in the back corner of a law library!

Happy Holidays, y’all! Nothing feels so Christmas-y as a little adultery, kidnapping, and family arguments that cause kids to cry, right?! 😉 The Oscar-nominated Fatal Attraction (1987) has all three in spades. The film is considered an ’80s classic, but somehow, neither my husband nor I had managed to watch it yet. (We both knew about the infamous bunny scene, and we were both kids when this movie came out, so maybe that explains it. Animal cruelty is scary!) But when it came up on our Amazon Prime video subscription, we decided to watch it.

Haven’t seen Fatal Attraction in awhile? Here’s the trailer:

“Fatal Attraction – Trailer” video uploaded by YouTube Movies, Standard YouTube License

Law librarian cameo

Imagine my surprise that almost exactly halfway through the film, at almost 1 hour and 3 minutes, we get introduced to a reel librarian! (Y’all can hear my groans from here, right? “Oh no, I’m going to have to take notes now! Hit pause!”)

We see a young black man shelving (or unshelving?) books, dressed in a button-front shirt and tie, pushing a cart full of books.

Shelving books in the firm's law library
Shelving books in the firm’s law library

This character is uncredited in the cast list, so it’s unclear exactly who this character is: A law librarian? A fellow lawyer? Researcher? Paralegal? But there is a clue on the film’s Goofs page on IMDb.com, seen below, which states that this character is a librarian. Therefore, I’m going with law librarian!

Movie goof in the library scene, which highlights that this character is a librarian.
Goofs: Crew of Equipment Visible: Reflected in the window that the librarian pushes the cart past.
A law librarian and his cart of books
A law librarian and his cart of books

In the back corner of their law firm’s library, Dan Gallagher (Michael Douglas) is having a private conversation with a friend and fellow lawyer. So THAT’s where one confesses to adultery, in the back corner of a law library. Now you know. Because there’s no one to disturb you, except for perhaps a law librarian just trying to get some work done? (Sigh.) 

Private conversation in the back corner of the law library
Why are we having this private conversation in the law library, instead of in one of our private offices?
What's that sound?
Because clearly no one visits the law library, so we’ll be totally undisturbed here… oh wait, I hear something! Who would have thought a law librarian would have been in here?!
A law librarian rolls past
Whew, the librarian turned the other way. We’re cool. Continue whining about how it’s so unfair that your adulterous affair is ruining your life and how you can’t deal with the choices you’ve made.

This uncredited reel librarian fulfills the Information Provider role. This character type is the most common for reel librarians, with the most diverse range of physical characteristics, including diversity of ages and ethnicities. This is also demonstrated in this brief role, as the law librarian is young, male, and black.

Ultimately, this brief law librarian sighting lands the film in the Class IV category, films in which the librarian(s) plays a cameo role and is seen only briefly with little or no dialogue.

Call number inconsistency

I also thought it funny that this short law library scene, which lasts a little over a minute, showcases some wildly inconsistent call numbers. In the screenshots below, we see:

  • Books with large call number labels shelved vertically, as seen near Michael Douglas’s elbow, as well as on the books stacked horizontally to the right of his colleague’s head, in the first screenshot below.
  • Books with NO call numbers at all, as seen in the back shelves in-between the two men in the first screenshot, and stacked haphazardly in the second screenshot below.

Clearly, the law librarian does not have enough time to properly label all the books, due to all the lawyers who keep whispering in the back corners of the law library! 😉

Call number inconsistency in the firm's law library
How do we find what we need in this law library if there are no consistent call numbers?
Call number inconsistency in the firm's law library
I don’t know, but it worries me greatly.

Explore more reel law librarians and libraries

Interested in more reel librarian sightings in law libraries? Check out a few related posts below:

Sources used

Reel librarian cameo in ‘A Simple Favor’ (2018)

The reel librarian does return the (research) favor

It often happens that I’m watching a movie, and — surprise! — a reel librarian pops up, with no warning or foreshadowing, in a library scene. Once you start noticing reel librarians, you find that we turn up EVERYWHERE. And this is what happened when one night, my husband and I decided to watch A Simple Favor (2018), a black comedy starring Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively and directed by Paul Feig.

What’s ‘A Simple Favor’ all about?

If you’re unfamiliar with this film, here’s the write-up from IMDb.com:

Stephanie [Anna Kendrick] is a single mother with a parenting vlog who befriends Emily [Blake Lively], a secretive upper-class woman who has a child at the same elementary school. When Emily goes missing, Stephanie takes it upon herself to investigate.

IMDb.com plot summary for ‘A Simple Favor’ (2018)

And here’s a trailer for the film:

“A SIMPLE FAVOR Official Trailer NEW (2018) – Anna Kendrick, Blake Lively Thriller” video uploaded by FilmIsNow Movie Trailers, 2018, Standard YouTube license

This trailer does capture the film’s mix of quirky, awkward humor; Blake Lively’s awesome wardrobe (Anne Kendrick is ALL OF US in the way she stares at Lively gliding through the rain in that pinstriped suit and fedora); and its brightly lit take on film noir. Do the most mysterious things actually happen in broad daylight? It’s an intriguing film, to be sure!

*MILD SPOILERS BELOW*

Reference interview with the reel librarian

About 1 hr and 20 minutes into this 2-hour film, Stephanie is digging into Emily’s past. During this journey, she goes to a local library to research past news articles.

Stephanie visits a local library to ask for past news article in A Simple Favor
Research need? Next stop, library!

We next see a closeup of the reel librarian, an older white lady with glasses and dressed in a floral button-front shirt and dark cardigan. (Love the extra detail of the name tag!) Corinne Conley plays the role of Librarian.

Reel librarian cameo in A Simple Favor (2018)
Reel librarian cameo in A Simple Favor (2018)

Here’s their reference interview exchange:

Stephanie: Hello!

Librarian: What do you want, cupcake?

Stephanie: I’m looking for all the Wayne County arson-related news items for the last 20 years.

We next see Stephanie at a desk, scrolling through news articles on a microfilm reader. And success! She finds what she’s looking for.

Researching past news articles on microfilm in A Simple Favor (2018)
Researching past news articles on microfilm

Although this scene lasts only 20 seconds, this was clearly a very successful reference interview. Therefore, the reel librarian does return the (research) favor in A Simple Favor!

This kind of scene exemplifies a standard kind of library research scene. The main character needs a clue or bit of information to propel the plot forward. And who can quickly supply information that will be trusted by the audience? A librarian, of course! 😀 In that way, this reel librarian serves as your basic Information Provider.

As the reel librarian is only onscreen for a few seconds, this film lands in the Class IV category, films in which the librarian(s) plays a cameo role and is seen only briefly with little or no dialogue.

“What do you want, cupcake?”

The most interesting part of this reel librarian cameo was in the reel librarian’s one line of dialog. She doesn’t ask the standard opening question of “How can I help you?,” but a rather more brusque version with “What do you want?” She also calls Stephanie “cupcake” — not “dear” or “miss” — but the quite juvenile (patronizing? sexist?) word “cupcake.” On paper, I would argue this comes off sounding quite rude and unprofessional. But does that feeling change when the line is spoken by a sweet-looking “old lady librarian”? The juxtaposition is intriguing.

This line just feels off, not quite true to what an actual librarian would say. And that’s indicative of this film in a nutshell; everything is just a bit off, a bit heightened, in a way that makes you question your own reactions. And in that sense, this short — one might even say throwaway — exchange is just right for this film.

Your thoughts?

Have you seen A Simple Favor (2018)? If you’re a librarian, would you ever say, “What do you want, cupcake?” to a library patron? Please leave a comment and share!

Sources used