Reel librarians of color, 2021 update

In the coming year, at least half of my posts will focus on reel librarians of color and more diverse portrayals of librarians onscreen

Last month, I came across a Twitter round-table thread about archivist/librarian/archives depictions in pop culture from Students and New Archives Professionals Section (@SNAP_Section). The responses from real-life archivists and librarians were illuminating and thought-provoking, with several lamenting the lack of diverse representation onscreen. It brings tears to my eyes to think about how much representation matters.

Here’s an example from the #snaprt discussion thread posted by Gina Murrell, a Digital Collections Librarian, who mentioned a prior post from Reel Librarians:

Personal reflections

I spent a lot of time reading through this discussion thread and reflecting on my own years-long journey to learn more about my White privilege, how to be a better ally, and how to be intentionally anti-racist in my own personal and professional spheres. I also thought about previous posts I have written on this blog about reel (and real!) librarians of color, and about the statement I wrote in my “What Hollywood Gets Wrong (and Right!) about Librarians” article that was published on ALA’s I Love Libraries site:

Over the years, many readers have asked about reel librarians of color, and this is an area I keep track of (see my posts here in 2013 and 2017). We librarians have a long way to go in diversifying our profession—both on and off screen!—but generally, I would say that portrayals of librarians in film are becoming more ethnically diverse. 

What Hollywood Gets Wrong (and Right!) about Librarians,” I Love Libraries, 26 May 2020

This section of the article got edited down in the final published version, but I was basing that statement on what I have perceived as an increase in more ethnically diverse reel librarian roles, particularly several recent roles that have been more substantial. Some immediate examples that come to mind include Wong from the Marvel series of movies, played by Chinese-British actor Benedict Wong; the recent movie versions of It with the main librarian character Mike Hanlon, played by Isaiah Mustafa, a Black American actor; and movies like The Public (2018), which feature an ethnically diverse range of reel librarian characters, including Jeffrey Wright, a Black American actor, as head librarian Mr. Anderson.

But we can do better.

Rachel Rosenberg wrote in the recent Book Riot article, “Why Aren’t There More Librarian in Pop Culture?,” that:

“Pop culture needs (a) more librarians and (b) more POC librarians.”

Rachel Rosenberg, “Why Aren’t There More Librarian in Pop Culture?,” Book Riot, 2 March 2020

I wholeheartedly agree, on both counts. And I can do better, too.

Several years ago, I wrote a post inspired by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s 2009 TED Talk, “The Danger of a Single Story,” and I wrote then that:

“What I am doing is simply exploring a connection, that stereotypes and the ‘danger of a single story’ echo throughout every part of our lives, small and large, professional and personal. Stories matter, and this site is an opportunity for me to share many stories.”

But how well have I done at my stated goal, to “share many stories“? To assess this, I went back through all my posts and tagged posts with a new “librarians of color” category and tag, as one (small) way of making related posts more discoverable and more visible on this site. Here’s a screenshot of where to find that category in the category cloud, located along the right column of this site:

"Librarians of color" tag in the category cloud

I then went back and analyzed the results. Thus far, in my 9 years of blogging and 492 published posts about librarians in film, only 42 posts focus on or include librarians of color. Less than 10% of my posts focus on the racial diversity of librarians.

I can do better.

Representation matters

As a White woman and librarian, I am very well represented on screen, at least visually. And visual representation matters. Black lives matter. Brown lives matter. (These statements are not and should not be controversial. If you disagree with these statements, then please find another blog to read.) I would argue there has been an increase in representation onscreen in recent years, but there’s no way to sugar-coat the fact that there are still not that many cinematic representations of librarians of color, and even fewer roles that are major characters.

And you could argue that this reflects the lack of diversity within the librarian profession as a whole. Again, representation matters. The percentages of reel librarians of color are even lower (I estimate around 10%) than the already low numbers of real librarians of color (~15%). Based on numbers from the 2010 Census, the librarian profession continues to be overwhelmingly female (80+% for credentialed librarians) and White (83+%). See more facts and figures here and here, and read this excellent blog post, “The unbearable whiteness of librarianship” that compares racial diversity of librarians versus the general population.

There are also several recent books written about the lack of diversity in our librarian profession, including: Where are all the Librarians of Color? The Experiences of People of Color in Academia (2016), edited by Rebecca Hankins and Miguel Juarez; Topographies of Whiteness: Mapping Whiteness in Library and Information Science (2017), edited by Gina Schlesselman-Tarango, and Pushing the Margins: Women of Color and Intersectionality in LIS (2018), edited by Rose L. Chou and Annie Pho.

Action plan and goals

I’ve been thinking and reflecting a lot about how I can be more intentional in applying the anti-racist values and principles I’ve been learning and thinking about to my work here on this blog. And for a start, here’s what I commit to:

  • Be more intentional about highlighting more reel librarians of color on this blog
  • Make posts about reel librarians of color more visible and discoverable on this site
  • Do more research about cinematic portrayals of POC librarians
  • And in the coming year, at least half of my posts will focus on reel librarians of color and more diverse portrayals of librarians onscreen

So, where to begin putting this plan into action? As I mentioned earlier, I have previously written about reel librarians of color (see my posts here in 2013 and 2017), so let’s start by revisiting that thread. Have there actually been more movies featuring reel librarians of color in the past few years?

Caveats and parameters:

  • I am a White woman; therefore, I have limited perspectives, and I will make mistakes. I have to be okay with this discomfort, and I am serious when I ask for feedback that will help improve and diversify this space.
  • I know that it is a sensitive issue to count and categorize portrayals of librarians of color, especially because I am not myself a librarian of color. There are many complicated issues when it comes to race or recognizing race, because race is a social construct.
  • For the categories below, I have focused first on the race/ethnicity category that reflects the librarian role, rather than starting with the race/ethnicity of the actors themselves. I do this because in my research, I have always focused my analysis on the purpose reel librarians serve in any given film. Do you agree or disagree with this approach? Please let me know. There are many other lenses with which to analyze librarians onscreen, and I recommend this 2015 article, “The Stereotype’s Stereotype: Our Obsession with Librarian Representation” about looking at librarian portrayals through the lenses of gender, race, class, and sexuality.
  • When the race/ethnicity of the librarian role is not clear/ambiguous, I then default to the ethnicity of the actor, which I try to ascertain through research.
  • It can be awkward when actors of color have been tasked to play ethnicities that are different from their own. Again, when this happens, I include them in the ethnicity category that reflects their role, rather than the ethnicity of the actors themselves. I then provide a note explaining this. I recognize that this categorization is imperfect also in not providing for multi-ethnic or biracial characters.
  • It’s especially problematic when White actors have been tasked to play characters of color. When this happens, I will NOT include them in the ethnicity category that reflects their role, but I will also provide a note explaining this.
  • I have gone back and forth on including Jewish reel librarians as a separate category. I am not personally Jewish, so I have been seeking out different Jewish perspectives regarding POC identity (Behan, 2017; Gorenberg, 2017; Zaleski, 2020), and I have read about how and why Jewish actors began playing WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) characters in mainstream Hollywood films (Erens) and issues about non-Jewish actors playing Jewish roles (Friedlander, 2020). Several White-presenting reel librarian roles have been played by Jewish actors or actors with Jewish heritage — but there are fewer reel librarian roles that are explicitly written as Jewish. Should I explore this in a separate post? Should I include a POC category for librarian roles that are intentionally and explicitly Jewish? If you identify as Jewish, would you like to write a guest post for this blog? I would really appreciate readers’ feedback about this.
  • And one last note: I am focusing on American films and films primarily in the English language. Therefore, I have not included here reel librarians from international films (please see my list of Foreign-language films).

Reel librarians of color, at current count (45 total):

  • 45 roles with reel librarians of color
    • 11 major roles
    • 34 supporting or cameo roles
    • 24 roles counted in 2013; 32 roles counted in 2017

Black or African descent || Asian + South Asian || Latinx + Hispanic || Arab + Middle Eastern || Native American

Librarian roles, Black or African descent (27 total):

I have organized each category below into two main sub-sections: (1) major roles and (2) supporting and cameo roles. I then organized each sub-section chronologically by the films’ release years, as a way to help gauge if portrayals of POC reel librarians are increasing (or not).

Major roles:

  • Escape from Alcatraz (1979): Paul Benjamin as English (prison librarian)
  • Stephen King’s It (1990, TV mini-series): Tim Reid as Michael “Mike” Hanlon (public librarian)
  • Men of Honor (2000): Aunjanue Ellis as Jo (public librarian)
  • The Time Machine (2002): Orlando Jones as Vox (librarian of the future)
  • Beautiful Creatures (2013): Viola Davis as Amma (public librarian — apparently, this character was changed from a maid character in the book to a librarian in the movie version! I will have more about this in my next post.)
  • BlacKkKlansman (2018): John David Washington as Ron Stallworth (police records librarian/archivist)
  • It: Chapter Two (2019): Isaiah Mustafa as Michael “Mike” Hanlon (public librarian)

Related posts5 movies featuring Black reel librarians in major roles ; First impressions: ‘It: Chapter Two’ (2019) and the town librarian hero ; First impressions: ‘BlacKkKlansman’ (2018) ; Scary clowns + reel librarians ; Stylish male reel librarians

Screenshot from 'BlackkKlansman' (2018) trailer
Don’t mess with records librarians! John David Washington as Ron Stallworth, who started out in the Records Library at the Colorado Springs police station

Supporting and cameo roles:

  • Pickup on South Street (1953): Jaye Loft-Lyn as Microfilm Library Clerk (public librarian)
  • All the President’s Men (1976): Jaye Stewart as Male Librarian (government librarian)
  • Somewhere in Time (1980): Noreen Walker as Librarian (public librarian)
  • Fatal Attraction (1987): Uncredited Black male actor as a book cart shelver (law librarian)
  • City Slickers II: The Legend of Curly’s Gold (1994): Uncredited Black male actor as a book cart shelver (public librarian)
  • With Honors (1994): Uncredited Black female actor as a librarian (academic librarian)
  • Dangerous Minds (1995): Jeff Feringa as Librarian #1 (school librarian)
  • Party Girl (1995):
    • C. Francis Blackchild as Wanda (public librarian)
    • L. B. Williams as Howard (public librarian)
  • Bed of Roses (1996): Mary Alice as Alice (children’s librarian)
  • Autumn in New York (2000): Delores Mitchell as Librarian (research librarian)
  • Men of Honor (2000): Demene E. Hall as Mrs. Biddle (public library director)
  • Follow the Stars Home (2001, TV movie): Octavia Spencer as Hildy (public librarian)
  • The Ring (2002): Ronald William Lawrence as Library Clerk (medical librarian)
  • Back When We Were Grownups (2004, TV movie): Lynette DuPree as Librarian (public librarian)
  • Ella Enchanted (2004): Merrina Millsapp as Hall of Records Attendant (archivist)
  • The Manchurian Candidate (2004): Duana Butler as Library Clerk (public librarian)
  • Winter’s Tale (2014): Norm Lewis as Custodian (newspaper librarian)
  • Spotlight (2015): Zarrin Darnell-Martin as Intern Wanda (newspaper librarian)
  • The Public (2018): Jeffrey Wright as Mr. Anderson (head public librarian)

Related posts‘South Street’ librarian ; All the president’s librarians in ‘All the President’s Men’ ; ‘Somewhere’ in the library ; Law librarian sighting in ‘Fatal Attraction’ ; A tale of seven shushes in ‘City Slickers II’ ; With or without honors ; Research and high school library scenes in ‘Dangerous Minds’ ; Graduate library school discussion in ‘Party Girl’ ; 5 movies featuring Black reel librarians in major roles ; Meet Hannah in ‘Follow the Stars Home’ ; Library research montage in ‘The Manchurian Candidate’ (2004) remake ; A not-so-enchanting librarian in ‘Ella Enchanted’ ; ‘Spotlight’-ing a news library

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Pickup on South Street'
Jaye Loft-Lyn as Microfilm Library Clerk, the first Black reel librarian onscreen I have been able to find
Reel Librarians | Librarian retirement in 'Follow the Stars Home' (TV, 2001)
Octavia Spencer as Hildy in Follow the Stars Home (2001, TV movie)

Honorable mention?

  • Jenny Douglas-McRae played the Librarian in the video for TOTO’s song “Africa.” Fun fact: Douglas-McRae was a vocalist for the band!

Related posts: Welcome to the library jungle

Librarian roles, Asian + South Asian (12 movies, 10 roles total):

I have organized each category below into two main sub-sections: (1) major roles and (2) supporting and cameo roles. I then organized each sub-section chronologically by the films’ release years, as a way to help gauge if portrayals of POC reel librarians are increasing (or not).

Note: Wong is listed below for each Marvel movie his reel librarian character recurs in thus far, but I only counted his role once overall.

Major roles:

  • Doctor Strange (2016): Benedict Wong as Wong (special librarian/archivist)

Related posts: Sorcerer librarians of ‘Doctor Strange’

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Doctor Strange' (2016)
Benedict Wong as Wong in ‘Doctor Strange’ (2016)

Supporting and cameo roles:

  • The Golden Child (1986): Shakti as Kala (special librarian)
    • NOTE: Shakti Chen, a Chinese actress, played Kala, whereas Marilyn Schreffler, a White American actress, voiced the character.
  • Necronomicon: Book of the Dead (1993):
    • Tony Azito as Librarian (academic librarian)
    • Juan Fernández as Attendant (academic librarian)
    • NOTE: This one is complicated! Tony Azito was Italian-American, and Juan Fernández is Dominican, but in this film, they play monks who appear at first to be South Asian or Indian, which is why I have included this movie and reel librarian roles in this category.
  • Finding Forrester (2000): Sophia Wu as Librarian (public librarian)
  • Elephant (2003): Alfred Ono as Mr. Fong (school librarian)
  • Age of Adaline (2015):
    • Anjali Jay as Cora (research librarian/archivist)
    • Hiro Kanagawa as Kenneth (research librarian/archivist)
  • Avengers: Infinity War (2018): Benedict Wong as Wong (special librarian/archivist)
  • To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (2018): Uncredited Asian female actor (school librarian)
  • Avengers: Endgame (2019): Benedict Wong as Wong (special librarian/archivist)
  • Let Them All Talk (2020): Uncredited Asian female actor (cruise ship librarian)

Related posts: The dragon lady librarian in ‘The Golden Child’ (1986) ; ‘Necronomicon’: Dead on arrival ; ‘Finding’ a reel librarian ; A reel librarian for the ages in ‘The Age of Adaline’ ; Sorcerer librarians of ‘Doctor Strange’ ; First impressions: ‘Avengers: Infinity War’ ; First impressions: ‘Avengers: Endgame’ (2019) ; 3 reel librarians who have died in the line of duty ; School library scene in ‘To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before’

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'The Age of Adaline' (2015)
Anjali Jay as Cora and Hiro Kanagawa as Kenneth in ‘Age of Adaline’ (2015)

Librarian roles, Latinx + Hispanic (4 total):

I have organized each category below into two main sub-sections: (1) major roles and (2) supporting and cameo roles. I then organized each sub-section chronologically by the films’ release years, as a way to help gauge if portrayals of POC reel librarians are increasing (or not).

Major roles:

  • Bound by Honor, aka Blood In, Blood Out… Bound by Honor (1993): Damian Chapa as Miklo (prison librarian)
  • Before Night Falls (2000): Javier Bardem as Reinaldo Arenas (public librarian)
    • Note: Javier Bardem is Spanish, whereas Reinaldo Arenas, a real-life writer, was Cuban.

Related posts: Oscar-nominated reel librarians ; Best librarian films by decade, Part II: 1960s-2000s

Before Night Falls (2000) Official Trailer – Javier Bardem, Johnny Depp Movie” video uploaded by Movieclips Classic Trailers is licensed under a Standard YouTube license

Supporting and cameo roles:

  • Just Cause (1995): Liz Torres as Delores Rodriguez (newspaper librarian)
  • The Ultimate Gift (2006): Rose Bianco as Bella (public librarian)
Rose Bianco as Bella in 'The Ultimate Gift' (2006)
Rose Bianco as Bella in ‘The Ultimate Gift’ (2006)

Librarian roles, Arab + Middle Eastern (3 total):

I have organized each category below into two main sub-sections: (1) major roles and (2) supporting and cameo roles. I then organized each sub-section chronologically by the films’ release years, as a way to help gauge if portrayals of POC reel librarians are increasing (or not).

Major roles:

  • Day of the Falcon, aka Black Gold (2011): Tahar Rahim as Prince Auda (special librarian/archivist)

Supporting and cameo roles:

  • The Mummy (1999): Erick Avari as Dr. Terrence Bey (special librarian/archivist)
    • Note: It appears that no one in this film set in Egypt is actually played by an Egyptian! (I went through the cast list and double-checked as best I could.) Erick Avari is an Indian-American portraying the Egyptian director of the Museum of Antiquities in Cairo. Because I believe the role is meant to be Egyptian, I have included it in this ethnic category.
  • Doctor Strange (2016): Ezra Faroque Khan as Kamar-Taj Librarian (special librarian/archivist)

NOTE: Although the reel librarian Evelyn “Evie” O’Connell (nee Carnahan) from the Mummy series states in 1999’s The Mummy that her mother is Egyptian, I am not including her here. I feel uncomfortable doing this because in the first two movies, Rachel Weisz played the role (Weisz herself is British, and her paternal ancestry is Austrian-Jewish), followed in the third film by Maria Bello (an American actress whose parents are Italian-American and Polish-American). This reel librarian character faces challenges primarily due to her gender, not necessarily because of her stated biracial identity. Again, is my thinking off-base here? Please let me know your thoughts. Side-note: I also recommend reading this Vox article about how “Hollywood likes to pretend that ancient Egypt was full of white people.”

Related posts: Revisiting the reel librarian hero in 1999’s ‘The Mummy’ ; Sorcerer librarians of ‘Doctor Strange’

Erick Avari at Motor City Comic Con 2009” video uploaded by bloggingchick is licensed under a Standard YouTube license
Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Doctor Strange' (2016)
Ezra Faroque Khan as Kamar-Taj Librarian in ‘Doctor Strange’ (2016)

Librarian roles, Native American (1 total):

Supporting and cameo roles:

Have I completely overlooked a movie or role featuring a reel librarian of color? Do I need to make any corrections? Please leave a comment, to help improve and expand this 2021 list spotlighting reel librarians of color!

Sources used:

Research and high school library scenes in ‘Dangerous Minds’

“This movie may be called Dangerous Minds, but it seems to me that the librarians have Suspicious Minds!”

Because we’re (still) living in coronavirus times, a lot of us — at least here in the United States — are not going back to school in the usual way (e.g., I’m teaching and working remotely from home again this fall). But we can still experience that back-to-school feeling by proxy, via the medium of film! Therefore, I thought it would be a good time to revisit the 1995 movie, Dangerous Minds, starring Michelle Pfeiffer as Louanne Johnson, a retired U.S. Marine and White woman who becomes a teacher in an impoverished, inner-city school and teaches poetry and literature to high schoolers, many of whom are Black and Latino students. The movie is based on Johnson’s real-life teaching experiences, as detailed in her 1992 memoir My Posse Don’t Do Homework.

Below is a trailer for the film, especially if it’s been awhile since you’ve seen it… and an opportunity to get Coolio’s hit song, Gangsta’s Paradise, stuck again in your head. You’re welcome. 🙂

“Dangerous Minds 1995 Trailer | Michelle Pfeiffer” video uploaded by Trailer Chan, Standard YouTube License

Teacher research

I like that in introducing Louanne Johnson’s character, the director John N. Smith took time to show us Johnson’s work ethic. Yes, we know she’s a former Marine, but it’s nice to actually see her apply that discipline and work ethic to her new chosen profession. And one way they highlight this in the film is to show Johnson researching teaching and classroom management strategies.

The visible titles include:

  • Assertive Discipline for Parents: A Proven, Step-by-Step Approach to Solving Everyday Behavior Problems (Revised edition) by Lee Canter and Marlene Canter
  • “Disciplining the Adolescent” article reprinted from Teacher’s Quarterly

OF COURSE you know I looked both of these titles up, and yep, it looks like they’re both legit! The book was originally published in 1985, and the revised edition was published in 1993. The periodical is most likely the California Teacher’s Quarterly, which has been published since 1907.

High school library setting and scene

Almost an hour into the movie, Johnson introduces a “Dylan Dylan” poetry contest in class. The goal is to find a Dylan Thomas poem that’s like a Bob Dylan poem/song and write about how they connect.

Next stop? You guessed it — the high school library!

This school library scene lasts only one minute long, but we get to see the typical school library setting, with bookcases, wood tables and chairs, and lots and lots of posters. The camera pans around to showcase students in groups at different tables in the school library. According to the filming locations listed on the film’s entry, this scene was filmed at San Mateo High School in San Mateo, California.

Suspicious minds

Although it feels novel — to Johnson and to her fellow teacher mentor, played by George Dzunda — that she got her students to go to the school library, the students already seem pretty comfortable in the space and confident about how to start researching. (Suspension of disbelief? Discuss.) As you can see in one of the photos above, I like the detail of one student, a young Black man in a grey hoodie, is holding a slip of paper in his hands (on which I assume is a call number) as he walks around the bookcases.

The student has clearly been successful at finding the book he was looking for — yay! — but the librarians at the high school library do not seem so impressed, however.

Rather, they are giving MAJOR side-eye to this student as he passes them seated side-by-side at the front desk. He doesn’t so much as glance at the school librarians, but the camera focuses, albeit briefly, on the two librarians, one Black woman and one White woman. This movie may be called Dangerous Minds, but it seems to me that the librarians have Suspicious Minds! Perhaps you could argue that they seem surprised, rather than suspicious? I looked up my past notes, and I initially wrote down the word “surprised,” but after this second viewing, I think the more apt descriptor is “suspicious.” Either way, it’s clear these two school librarians have no interest in getting up and helping any of the students. 😦

A librarian by any other name?

I also thought it interesting that although there are two school librarians, there is only ONE nameplate on the desk, which reads “Toni Devereaux, Librarian.” You can see this nameplate more clearly in the image below.

But which one is Toni Devereaux? There is no such name included in the cast list. Jeff Feringa is listed as Librarian #1 (she is seated on the right in the photo above, dressed in the floral dress and lace collar), and Sarah Marshall is listed as Librarian #2 (she is seated on the left in the photo above, in a green cardigan). Is Toni supposed to be Librarian #1, as Feringa is listed first in the credits? It remains unclear. Also, why are there two librarians at this school, when it seems clear that neither one is interested in helping the students?

What role do these reel librarians serve in this movie? Although neither librarian actually helps any of the students, I would argue they still both fulfill the role of Information Provider. They do help establish the setting of the high school library; in fact, you could argue they function more like props! But more than that, I would argue their suspicious glances are also reflective of a larger issue, a societal under-appreciation and distrust of these students and their abilities. While I appreciate the racial diversity of these school librarians — please also see this post highlighting 5 movies that feature Black reel librarians — their suspicious attitudes and seemingly purposeful inaction leave me disappointed. Ultimately, their cameo appearances land this movie in the Class IV category.

Sources used

10 teen comedies with reel librarians

In my previous post, I highlighted the reel librarian’s cameo scenes in the 1999 teen comedy — a pitch-dark comedy! — Drop Dead Gorgeous. That got me to thinking about how many teen comedies feature scenes with school libraries and reel librarians. Let’s round up 10 examples, shall we? The movies below are listed in chronological order by year of release, starting in the 1980s.

The Last American Virgin (1982)

This Class III movie is a quintessential ’80s flick, about teenage boys seeking every opportunity to have sex. When we first watched this movie, my husband cheekily asked, “Is the librarian the title character?” No, she is not, y’all! The movie includes a brief — but memorable — fight in the school library. The school librarian, an older White woman with glasses, is shocked, I tell you, SHOCKED that fisticuffs fly in the school library! Her facial reactions are priceless.

Reel librarian facial expression in The Last American Virgin
Reel librarian’s facial expression in The Last American Virgin

Related post: ‘The Last American Virgin’ librarian

My Science Project (1985)

In this Class II film and action/adventure comedy, young student Michael (John Stockwell) is in search of a science project. He then breaks into a military base and finds a strange glowing orb, as you do. The orb wreaks havoc when it turns the school into a battlefield of the past, present, and future — because OF COURSE — and Michael and his friends must find a way to stop it. Michael goes to the library to find out information on time travel, and he gets help from Sherman (Raphael Sbarge), the school nerd and know-it-all who works in the school library.

“My Science Project (1985) Original Trailer” video, uploaded by Jason Hawk, Standard YouTube License

Pretty in Pink (1986)

This teen classic is part comedy, part drama, and part love triangle. Another classic ’80s movie — and fashion! Andie (Molly Ringwald) likes Blane (Andrew McCarthy) while her best friend, Duckie (Jon Cryer), pines for Andie. There is a brief scene in the school library, in which Blane flirts with Andie via the school library’s computers. You can catch a brief glimpse of a school librarian in the scene, landing this teen comedy in the Class IV category of reel librarian films.

Reel Librarians | Screenshot from 'Pretty in Pink' (1986)
A blink-and-you’ll-miss-it glimpse of a school librarian in Pretty in Pink

Related post: The school library in ‘Pretty in Pink’

Summer School (1987) 

This Class IV film features Mark Harmon as gym teacher Freddy Shoop, who gets stuck teaching remedial English in summer school. On the second day of summer school, he takes the students to the library to work on book reports. You can juuuuuuust spy the back of the school librarian in the scene. It’s easy to miss her and her hair bow amidst all the hand-lettered signs in the library! 😉

The back of the school librarian can be seen right below a "Please Return Books Here" sign in the school library
The back of the school librarian can be seen right below a “Please Return Books Here” sign in the school library

Related post‘Summer school’ in the library

Pump Up the Volume (1992)

In this high school dramedy, and Class II film, new high school student Mark (Christian Slater) uses a short-wave radio to broadcast as pirate DJ Hard Harry, incurring the wrath of the principal. Student library assistant Nora (Samantha Mathis) investigates the DJ’s identity and finds out about Mark via the book he checks out at the school library. She impresses Mark, who calls her “fearless.” They have a super cute “Meet Cute” moment in the school library.

“Classic Girl – Samantha Mathis – Jane’s Addiction – Pump Up The Volume – 1990 – Allan Moyle” video, uploaded by Fred Fromberg, Standard YouTube License

High School High (1996)

In this Class IV film — a parody of films like Dangerous Minds — a naïve teacher (Jon Lovitz) gets a job at an urban high school. After he makes a would-be inspirational speech at the school assembly, the school librarian in the crowd yells out, “You suck!” A proud, inspiring moment for all librarians. 😉

“High School High 1996 Trailer | Jon Lovitz | Tia Carrere” video, uploaded by Trailer Chan, Standard YouTube License

Drop Dead Gorgeous (1999)

This Class IV comedy focuses on teen girls (and their mothers) competing in a local beauty pageant. The plot includes murder, a huge swan float engulfed in flames, beauty pageant contestants upchucking contaminated seafood, and more! There are a couple of memorable closeups with an older librarian, who recalls her past as the beauty pageant winner in 1945.

The beauty pageant winner... turned local librarian.
The beauty pageant winner… turned local librarian.

Related post: ‘Drop Dead Gorgeous’ librarian

The New Guy (2002)

In this Class III film, Dizzy (DJ Qualls) tries to restart the year at another school as the cool “new guy.” Why? Because he was humiliated at his old high school when a group of jocks pulled his underpants over his head and pushed him toward the school librarian. It is certainly a, uh, memorable opening scene!

The school librarian in The New Guy reaches out... but not in a good way!
The school librarian in The New Guy reaches out… but not in a good way!

Related posts:  The hand that rocks the school in ‘The New Guy’ ; Behind the blog: What goes into a film analysis post

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (2018)

In this Netflix teen comedy and romance, teen Lara Jean (Lana Condor) has to deal with the romantic complications that ensue after her secret love letters are exposed. There is a brief school library scene early in the film, in which Lara Jean breaks the silence rule (she eats a carrot). However, it’s not the reel librarian who enforces the silence rule — her fellow students take care of that! We do see a glimpse of the school librarian as Lara Jean enters the school library, placing this sweet teen flick in the Class IV category of reel librarian films.

Screenshot from 'To All the Boys I've Loved Before' (2018)
Lara Jean greets the school librarian at her high school

Related post: School library scene in ‘To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before’

Booksmart (2019)

In this whip-smart teen comedy directed by Olivia Wilde, two high school seniors and best friends (Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever) put down their books and let loose en route to graduation parties. OF COURSE they use a library to try and track down one party’s location. And OF COURSE they enjoy a fist-bump greeting with the librarian. This movie is so much fun!

“BOOKSMART Trailer (2019) Lisa Kudrow, Olivia Wild, Teen Movie” video, uploaded by Movie Trailers Source, Standard YouTube License

Sources used

  • Booksmart. Dir. Olivia Wilde. Perf. Beanie Feldstein, Kaitlyn Dever, Billie Lourd, Jessica Williams. Annapurna Pictures, 2019.
  • Drop Dead Gorgeous. Dir. Michael Patrick Jann. Perf. Kirsten Dunst, Kirstie Alley, Denise Richards, Ellen Barkin, Allison Janney. New Line Cinema, 1999.
  • High School High. Dir. Hart Bochner. Perf. Jon Lovitz, Tia Carrere, Louise Fletcher, Mekhi Phifer. TriStar, 1996.
  • The Last American Virgin. Dir. Boaz Davidson. Perf. Lawrence Monoson, Diane Franklin, Steve Antin. Golan-Globus Productions, 1982.
  • My Science Project. Dir. Jonathan R. Betuel. Perf. John Stockwell, Danielle von Zerneck, Fisher Stevens, and Raphael Sbarge. Touchstone, 1985.
  • The New Guy. Dir. Peter MacDonald. Perf. DJ Qualls, Eliza Dushku, Zooey Deschanel. Bedlam Pictures, 2002.
  • Pretty in Pink. Dir. Howard Deutch. Written by John Hughes. Perf. Molly Ringwald, Andrew McCarthy, Jon Cryer, Harry Dean Stanton, Annie Potts. Paramount, 1986.
  • Pump Up the Volume. Dir. Allan Moyle. Perf. Christian Slater, Samantha Mathis, Jeff Chamberlain. New Line Cinema, 1990.
  • Summer School. Dir. Carl Reiner. Perf. Mark Harmon, Kirstie Alley, Courtney Thorne-Smith. Paramount, 1987.
  • To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. Dir. Susan Johnson. Perf. Lana Condor, Noah Centineo, John Corbett. Netflix, 2018.

5 movies featuring Black reel librarians in major roles

As I wrote in my post “What Hollywood Gets Wrong (and Right!) about Librarians” on the I Love Libraries blog, portrayals of librarians in film are becoming more ethnically diverse. Of course, we still have a long way to go, both on and off screen, as we put in the work to diversify our profession. Here are 5 movies that feature Black reel librarians in major roles.

The movies are arranged below in alphabetical order by title.

Escape from Alcatraz (1979)

This Class III film is an engrossing prison break film featuring the most famous prison of them all, Alcatraz.

Paul Benjamin plays English, a taciturn and well-respected Black inmate who is also the prison librarian. He teaches Frank Morris (Clint Eastwood) how to survive in Alcatraz. In one scene, English saves Frank from getting beaten up by another inmate. English also reveals that he is serving two life sentences for killing two White men in self-defense.

Below is a video of a scene from the movie, featuring Paul Benjamin as English.

Escape from Alcatraz (1979) King of the Mountain | Movie Scene HD” video, uploaded by Bynnel, Standard YouTube License

Related posts: Reel Substance: A look at Classes III and IV ; A librarian ‘within the law’

It, aka Stephen King’s It (1990, TV miniseries)

In this Class I TV miniseries based on Stephen King’s book, a group of friends who name themselves the Losers’ Club defeat a demonic clown creature, Pennywise (Tim Curry). Thirty years later, they have to face “It” once more.

Tim Reid plays Mike Hanlon, the only Black member of the Losers’ Club. He stays behind in the town and becomes the town librarian and “answer man.” Mike contacts the friends to return to the town and sets the entire plot of the second half in motion. Mike is the true hero of the story.

Marlon Taylor plays the younger version of Mike in the miniseries.

Below is a video montage of Mike’s and Bill’s friendship.

Stephen King’s It 1990. Bill Denbrough and Mike Hanlon” video uploaded by Gunnar Andersson, Standard YouTube License.

Related posts: Scary clowns + reel librarians

It: Chapter Two (2019)

In this Class I film and movie remake, Isaiah Mustafa subtly shines in his version of the town librarian hero Mike Hanlon. Mike’s narration begins the film, he calls all the friends back to town, and he figures out how to beat “It.” He grounds the story, beginning, middle, and end. This film includes lines and scenes that highlight Mike’s backstory, agency, and experiences as a Black man, as well as the long-lasting effects of racism and “white flight” in the town.

Chosen Jacobs plays the younger version of Mike in this film, seen in flashbacks, and in its prequel, the 2017 film It: Chapter One. (Unfortunately, in the first film, Mike’s backstory is given short shrift, and young Ben, the White new kid in town, takes over the role as researcher.)

The video below is an interview with Isaiah Mustafa about his role as Mike:

IT Chapter Two: Isaiah Mustafa Opens Up About His Role in the Scary Sequel” by ET Live, Standard YouTube License

Related posts: First impressions: ‘It’ (2017) and its library scene ; First impressions: ‘It: Chapter Two’ (2019) and the town librarian hero

Men of Honor (2000)

This Class II film is based on the true story of the first Black American Navy diver, Carl Brashear (played by Cuba Gooding, Jr.).

Carl goes to the local library for tutoring assistance, and a library assistant, Jo (played by Aunjanue Ellis) decides to help him. She also reveals that she has the goal of getting into medical school. The character of Jo is a bright spot in this film, and Ellis plays her role with wit, confidence, and a wry sense of humor.

Demene E. Hall plays Mrs. Biddle, the director of the library — and although we only see her briefly, it’s important to see a Black woman in a library position of authority and leadership.

Here is a brief clip from one of the movie’s library scenes, featuring the character of Jo:

Men of Honor Because They Said I Couldn’t Have It” video, uploaded by Jonathan F., Standard YouTube License

Related posts: Reel Substance: A look at Classes I and II ; Notable additional occupations for reel librarians

The Time Machine (2002)

In this Class III film, a disillusioned inventor (Guy Pearce) builds a time machine and travels 800,000 years into the future.

Orlando Jones plays the memorable and indelible character of Vox, a holographic librarian, and he supplies information about time travel and the history and evolution of the planet and its population. Vox is the heart and soul of this film, literally “the compendium of all human knowledge.”

The video below introduces us to the character of Vox.

Time Machine(2002) Vox System” video, uploaded by Stamatios Giannoulakis, Standard YouTube License

Related posts: Stylish male reel librarians

Sources used:

  • Escape from Alcatraz. Dir. Don Siegel. Perf. Clint Eastwood, Patrick McGoohan, Larry Hankin, Paul Benjamin. Paramount, 1979. Based on the book by J. Campbell Bruce.
  • It, aka Stephen King’s It. Dir. Tommy Lee Wallace. Perf. John Ritter, Harry Anderson, Annette O’Toole, Tim Reid, Tim Curry. Warner Bros., 1990. Based on the novel by Stephen King.
  • It: Chapter Two. Dir. Andy Muschietti. Perf. Isaiah Mustafa, James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, Bill Hader, Bill Skarsgaard. New Line Cinema, 2019. Based on the novel by Stephen King.
  • Men of Honor. Dir. George Tillman Jr. Perf. Robert De Niro, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Charlize Theron, Aunjanue Ellis, Hal Holbrook. 20th Century Fox, 2000.
  • Snoek-Brown, Jennifer. “What Hollywood Gets Wrong (and Right!) About Librarians.” I Love Libraries, 26 May 2020.
  • The Time Machine. Dir. Simon Wells. Perf. Guy Pearce, Samantha Mumba, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Guillory, Orlando Jones. Warner Bros., 2002. Based on the novel by H. G. Wells.

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