Tracking Black Panther

One of the more controversial topics in Hollywood is the concept of whitewashing – casting a white actor in a role meant to be Black, Asian, Native American, Latin, or other ethnic group. Some of the more egregious examples are Laurence Olivier (and Orson Welles) playing  Othello – in blackface, Ralph Fiennes playing Michael Jackson; Mickey Rooney (Breakfast at Tiffany’s), Katharine Hepburn (Dragon Seed), and John Wayne (The Conqueror) as Asians; Johnny Depp as Tonto (Lone Ranger); Tilda Swinton as an Asian man (Dr. Strange), or the one that ruined my childhood: finding out that Native American Iron Eyes Cody of the 1970’s Keep America Beautiful campaign was actually a man of Italian descent.

Big-Budget Black-Lead Films

In fact, serious big-budget black films are hard to come by. Indeed, most of the highest-grossing black-lead films are comedies (Eddie Murphy has 5 of the top 7, not including Beverly Hills Cop), despite some very top-quality dramas (The Color Purple, Fences, Moonlight, The Help, Soul Food). Yet Samuel L. Jackson – I’ll see anything he’s in – ranks number TWO on the list of actors with top box office revenues, pulling in a combined domestic gross of more than 7 BILLION dollars for his 126+ films (#1 is Stan Lee. He has a cameo in every movie he makes). Even Hollywood protested the lack of serious roles for black actors, and stirred a controversy over a glaring absence in Oscar nominations despite worthy black films, a problem starting to be rectified in 2017. Not great if you’re a black kid looking for role models. The Adventures of Pluto Nash just doesn’t cut it.

A New Superhero

Now, Hollywood may be on the verge of a true black superhero blockbuster with the release of February’s Black Panther, Marvel’s 18th release into its megahit superhero franchise. Following his debut in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, T’Challa – holding the title Black Panther – is the king of the fictional African country of Wakanda, who gains superpowers from a heart-shaped herb and connections to a mystical Panther God. When his father is assassinated in Civil War, T’Challa returns to Wakanda to discover his claim to the throne being challenged. T’Challa must team up with a CIA agent and the Wakanda Special Forces to prevent a world war.

The History of Black Panther

Black Panther was the first black comic book superhero, ever (1966), so early he predates the political party. Chadwick Boseman does a phenomenal job as T’Challa, and the movie promises to have the same serious craft and attention as the rest of the Marvel films. The previews are visually stunning, with rich ethnic textiles and cultural details that leap off the screen, drawn from no fewer than five different African cultures. Not only a superhero, but a culturally relevant one as well – which of course, immediately started another controversy whether or not the movie is celebrating African culture or trying to appropriate it. The movie was originally green-lighted in 2011, and the script approved in 2015. Hollywood doesn’t get better than this.

Of course there are now other black superheroes. Luke Cage’s TV series has had luke-warm reviews. As the XMen movies progressed, Storm played less and less of a role. Sam Wilson is a great sidekick, but no Captain America. Iron Man’s buddy Rhodey Rhodes/War Machine/Iron Patriot may be Don Cheadle, but he’s still just a sidekick called in when an extra guy is needed (at least, in the films). In Black Panther, black youth – and everyone else – may finally have found a superhero they can look up to, in full, serious, big-screen, big-budget glory, and he is Marvel-ous.

The 10 Most Romantic Movies EVER!

A bold claim, I know. But if you’re in the mood for love, these  movies are guaranteed to make your heart go pitty-pat. The best part is, you can check them out from the library and watch them at home with your own true love, snuggled up in front of the TV, (maybe throw a glass of wine in there – romance!). I stand by my ranking of these movies as the most romantic, but I’m willing to concede that romance is in the eyes of the beholder – share your favorites in the comments!

screenshots from Casablanca, Brokeback Mountain, and Say AnythingCasablanca (1942). Former lovers Rick and Ilsa are unexpectedly reunited in north Africa during WWII.  The old feelings are still there, though Ilsa is now married to the gallant resistance hero Victor. Lots of yearning, lots of  smoldering looks and “will they or won’t they get back together?” moments.  A romantic classic for good reason.

Brokeback Mountain (2005). This film has a lot of the same elements that make Casablanca great, except it’s two cowboys in the 60’s. Stay with me here: Ennis and Jack are helplessly drawn to one another and remain so over decades of clandestine meetups. Lots of yearning, lots of smoldering looks, lots of and “will they or won’t they get back together?” moments.  It’s an emotional roller coaster, and the last scenes of this movie completely gut me.

Say Anything (1989). He’s a slacker, she’s a brain. She’s way out of his league, but they fall in love anyway. And there’s Lloyd’s big gesture with the boombox to declare his undying love to Diane, despite the odds against them, (Peter Gabriel likely made a mint off of that song). Teenagers-in-love perfection, written and directed by Cameron Crowe.

screenshots from When Harry Met Sally, Wall-E, and Silver Linings PlaybookWhen Harry Met Sally (1989).  This movie was written by Nora Ephron, and stars Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan, so you know it’s not one of those angsty romantic dramas, it’s a witty romantic comedy. This friends-to-lovers romance navigates the many bumps in the road to love hilariously, and is a real feel-good movie.

WALL-E (2008). Yes, it’s an animated movie about a trash-collecting robot, set hundreds of years in the future, but Pixar has totally made an epic romance here. WALL-E is all alone collecting trash on the now-deserted Earth when another robot (“EVE”) crash lands nearby. So delighted to see another being of any kind, WALL-E “courts” her enthusiastically. Things go very wrong before they right themselves, and for a story about robots, it has a lot of heart.

Silver Linings Playbook  (2012).  A funny and touching look at romance through the eyes of two pretty mentally unstable people. Love has broken both of them, and love will eventually put them back together, but what a crazy ride it is from point A to point B. Five star performances from Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper (both pretty easy on the eyes –  just saying) seal the deal on this one, and the dance scenes are the icing on the cake.

The Way We Were (1973). Meeeemoriesss … light the corners of my miiiiind. Sorry, I got distracted there. Speaking of easy on the eyes, Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford screenshots from The Way We Were, Ghost, and An Affair to Rememberare looking pretty fetching in this one. A tale of opposites attracting, but will the friction pull them together of push them apart? Katie and Hubbell try to make it work, but it all turns to misty water-colored memories by the end…

Ghost (1998). No one knew pottery was sexy before this movie. But boy howdy, it is! Hot young wife Molly is mourning the loss of her hot young husband Sam, who was killed in a mugging. Demi Moore‘s tears should get separate billing, they’re on screen so much, but what could be a real downer of a movie is instead a sweet story of love and finding a way to move on. Whoopi Goldberg provides some welcome comic relief as the medium who helps Sam communicate with Molly from beyond.

An Affair to Remember (1957). Playboy Cary Grant meets nice girl Deborah Kerr on a transatlantic crossing. They are both engaged to others, but hopelessly drawn to one another. And then, well, it’s an affair to remember! At the end of the cruise, they agree to go back to their regular lives, and meet in six months at the Empire State Building if they truly can’t forget each other. The ending is totally tissue-worthy.

screenshots from animated and live action versions of Beauty and the BeastBeauty and the Beast (1991) and Beauty and the Beast (2017). Whether it’s the original animated film or the newer live action version, this love story is a tale as old as time. And a musical! She’s bookish, he’s brutish, yet somehow they connect. True love breaks an evil curse, and they live happily ever after. And ladies, any man that gives you a library is a keeper!

A Delicious Mystery Series

I recently stumbled on the Verlaque and Bonnet mysteries by M.L. Longworth. These delectable stories are set in Aix-en-Provence and begin with Death at the Château Bremont.

Death at the Château Bremont‘s description says “Antoine Verlaque, the handsome chief magistrate of Aix and his sometimes love interest, law professor Marine Bonnet, investigate the death of a local French nobleman who fell from the family Chateau in charming and historic Aix-en-Provence.”

Simple, non? Well, that one-sentence blurb does not even begin to cover the colorful world waiting for you within its pages. Not only do you get a good mystery, the descriptions of the town and countryside are a virtual tour of Provence. Longworth, who has lived there since 1997, obviously loves her adopted home.

And the food! As the characters eat and drink their way though the story, I often became more engrossed in their meals than in their sleuthing. They partake of fine wines and cheeses. They visit vineyards and cafes.  They meet friends for scrumptious dinners at small restaurants owned by skilled chefs. I was completely consumed by lifestyle envy.

The story is liberally sprinkled with passages such as this:

He tore open the cannele and bit into the soft inner cake made of rum and vanilla. Crusty and caramelized on the outside and soft and gooey on the inside, it was perfect.

The mystery floats in the background as the characters sit in cafes consuming fine French food and debating the merits of various wines. Verlaque often despairs of Marine. He is a gourmet and she will eat anything! Still, they enjoy an on-again, off-again love affair amid some meals that made me want to pack and move to France.

There are currently six books in this cozy mystery series. Warning: They are not only a good read, they will make you hungry!

Murder in the Rue Dumas

Death in the Vines

Murder on the Île Sordou

The Mystery of the Lost Cézanne

The Curse of La Fontaine

What’s Happening at Cheshire Library in February

Did you know February is Library Lovers Month? We’ve got lots to love at CPL this month, check out these great programs:

Dirty Harry, Dirty Rotten Scounfrels, The Dirty Dozen, Dirty Dancing (DVDS)Dirty Movie Month at CPL

Tuesdays at 1:00 PM

Now that we’ve got your attention, we should explain that our Matinee Movies this month all have the word “Dirty” in the title. Disappointed? Relieved? Come by every Tuesday at 1:00 for some good, (mostly)clean fun! No registration Required.

  • Feb 6 : Dirty Harry
  • Feb 13: Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
  • Feb 20: The Dirty Dozen
  • Feb 27: Dirty Dancing

Victoria & Abdul movie posterMovie Night – Victoria & Abdul

Thursday Feb 8, 2018, 6:00  –  8:00 PM

The extraordinary true story of the amazing and unlikely friendship between Queen Victoria (Judi Dench) and a young clerk, Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal), who becomes her teacher, her spiritual advisor, and her devoted friend. Based on the book of same name by Shrabani Basu.  Please register for this event.

stylized Cheshire CatCheshire Anime Club

Friday Feb 9, 2018, 3:00  –  4:30 PM

Konnichiwa, minna-san! Can’t get enough Anime and Manga? Be an “Otaku” and join the Cheshire Anime Club! We meet monthly, read and talk about what’s hot in the world of Manga, and watch some of the latest Anime releases on the big screen! Japanese snacks (like Ramune and Pocky) will be available for refreshments. For grades 7 -12, no registration required.

River City Slim & The Zydeco Hogs (musical group)Sunday Concert – River City Slim & The Zydeco Hogs

Sunday Feb 11, 2018, 2:00 PM

It’s Mardi Gras and time to party with River City Slim and The Zydeco Hogs, who bring the exuberant sounds of the steamy bayous of southwestern Louisiana to the hills of New England.  Whatever you do, don’t forget your dancing shoes!  Cheshire is Slim’s old hometown so be prepared to give him a big Cheshire welcome! This concert is Paid for by the Friends of the Library  and free to the public, no registration required.

Trivia Night logoTrivia Night

Wednesday Feb 14, 2018, 6:00  –  8:00 PM

Come by yourself or bring your sweetheart for a Valentine’s Day Trivia Night. Test your knowledge from general categories, including pop culture, current events, history, music, and of course literature! It’s all For Pride, Not Prize.  Registration for this adult program begins January 31.

Queen Victoria reenactor Sally MummeyMeet Queen Victoria

Thursday Feb 15, 2018, 6:00  –  7:30 PM

Using Queen Victoria’s diary and letters, this program reveals the personal details of a powerful yet humane woman, who took seriously her role as monarch in a time of great expansion. Sally Mummey’s portrayal as the queen is one not to miss! Registration is required.

Year of the Dog illustrationChinese-English Storytime

Friday Feb 16, 2018, 10:00  –  11:00 AM

Celebrate the first day of Chinese New Year with a special storytime! We’ll sing simple songs, learn rhymes, and read books in Chinese and English, and complete a craft as well. For children ages 2-5 and their caregivers.  Registration required starting January 15 for Cheshire residents, and February 1 for nonresidents.

candleholders made from booksCraft Night: Book Candle Holder

Monday Feb 19, 2018, 6:00  –  8:00 PM

A fun night crafting and upcycling books into beautiful candle holders.  Registration required for this adult program.

Queen VictoriaThe Men in the Life of Queen Victoria

Wednesday Feb 21, 2018, 6:30  –  8:00 PM

Join us for a fun evening, as we learn about the Queen and the men in her life.  From her infatuation with the Duke of Brunswick, through Uncle Leopold, her Prime Minister Lord Melbourne, Albert, then the dreaded John Brown,  Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, and finally the Munshi, her Indian secretary. Registration is required.

Carolina Gold rice plantThe Rice That Helped America Grow

Monday Feb 26, 2018, 6:00 PM

A variety of rice named Carolina Gold was the first food product that America exported to Europe, and helped the coastal colonies achieve economic independence. Learn the legend of how this rice came to America, how West African ingenuity helped it thrive and become a local and international delicacy, and how it was almost lost forever before being revived by amateur enthusiasts in the past few years. Registration is required.



Winter is Here, Jon Snow

Some people love winter, love the brisk air, the blinding glare, the crystal-clear night skies, soft fluffy snow and cups of steaming hot chocolate. Other people hate the freezing cold, the knifing winds, the treacherous roads, bare trees, and endless brown mud and slush clinging to shoes, cars, and pet feet tracking through the house.

For me, winter is a romantic time, curled by a fireplace (wood, gas, or electric) before a window with long velvet drapes (one of my favorite possessions), reading a book in a favorite chair while snow swirls outside the window and an animal lounges at my feet. It means a stew bubbling on the stove, fresh bread in the oven, or perhaps fresh shortbread cookies and a cup of Earl Gray tea by that fire. Perhaps it’s a holiday, with candles and lights and decorations, waiting for company to make it through the snow. Yeah, yeah, there’s no groundsman to shovel the walks when it’s over, I have to do it myself, but for a few hours I’m lost in an old English fantasy, there’s a mystery in the air, a challenge ahead, but love and fortune win in the end (note: I have never achieved this fantasy, but I keep hoping).

English Tales of Winter

Which made me think: why are all those images we cling to English fantasies? Sure, that period of literature is within what’s called the Little Ice Age, which ran from the 1300’s to the 1890’s, killing off the Vikings in Greenland and creating all those iconic Currier and Ives scenes, but it also put those chunks of ice in Washington Crossing the Delaware, and in 1816, with the dust of the exploded volcano Mount Tambora in the air, summer never arrived, and temperatures were still below freezing in June. Where is the American winter tale? American stories tend to be about blizzards, hardship, starvation, and ghosts. Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allen Poe, and Washington Irving are hardly on par with Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights. Reading about the Donner party probably isn’t a good idea before eating stew.

American Tales of Winter

The only American “winter” tales I know well are children’s literature: The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder, Left By Themselves by Charles Paul May, the semi-historical Seven Alone by Honore Morrow, and the absolutely timeless endearing tale of Mandy, by Julie Andrews Edwards (Yes, Mary Poppins herself. Adults will love this, too!). But where are the adult books? Problem is, not much adult American literature of that period gives off that type of security.

That period of literature we think of is called the Romantic movement and includes Gothic literature, dealing with mystery, spiritualism, ghosts, hauntings, and torturous love – Frankenstein, Les Miserables, Dorian Gray, Hunchback of Notre Dame, A Christmas Carol, Oliver Twist – some of our most famous classics, running from about 1760 through the Victorian age, around 1890.  America in 1776 was not only new and still forming, it was mostly unsettled, and people in the colds of Fort Duquesne, Fort Niagara, and Fort Cumberland were more concerned with staying alive than writing literature. Of course you still had authors, but not to the degree England – a stable civilization for 1200 years – did. While Heathcliff was brooding the lonely moors, Americans were exploring and giving us stories like Last of the Mohicans, Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Moby Dick, and The Scarlet Letter. Not the same, and certainly not the same as being snowed in and wringing one’s hands on the family estate. The American experience is uniquely American in that regard.

Just because our snow stories don’t go back to King Wenceslas (ok, Wenceslas was Bohemian/ Czechoslovakian, but the song, 900 years later, is English) doesn’t mean American literature isn’t good, it just means it’s different. Maybe you’ll have to settle for cotton twill drapes and a medium double-latte with a space heater and a Snuggie. If you love gothic literature, delve into a classic or something newer; there are hundreds of books (and films!) to choose from. If you love reading about snowy days while curled in a chair listening to the winds howl, try some of these modern tales (and films):

Office Girl by Joe Meno

The Lazarus Project by Aleksandar Hemon

Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris

 Snow by Orhan Panuk


  Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata

The Snow Child  by Eowyn Ivey

Wolf Winter by Celia Ekback

Winter Solstice  by Rosamunde Pilcher

The Book Thief by  Markus Zusak

Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson

 The Shining  Stephen King

Smilla’s Sense of Snow by Peter Høeg, 

Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin

Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin