Aside from earning $103.3 million during opening weekend in North America, being the highest grossing film directed by a woman, and earning 93% positive reviews on review site Rotten Tomatoes, Wonder Woman and its main character Diana Prince stand out for another reason.
Wonder Woman is joining my list of fictional-movie-and-television-characters-who-work-in-museums-or-have-art-history-degrees-which-only-tangentially-relate-to-the-main-narrative (phew, that’s a mouthful!). As the movie begins, we see Diana entering a stunning office in The Louvre surrounded by ancient arms and armor, receiving an archival photograph. It’s assumed that she is now part of their curatorial team, making her possibly the world’s only superhero art historian.
Back to this list… who’s on it?
- Diana Prince, Wonder Woman: Previously visiting lecturer on Greco-Roman mythology at Gateway City Museum of Antiquities, currently works in the Louvre’s antiquities department.
- Dr. Zoidberg, Futurama: Despite being the medical doctor for Planet Express, admits that his doctorate is in art history (S6E05).
- Mandy Hampton, The West Wing: Earned a bachelor’s in art history prior to becoming a political consultant for the Bartlet administration (S1E02).
- John Smith, Mr. & Mrs. Smith: Majored in art history at Notre Dame University.
- Charlotte York, Sex and the City: Majored in art history at Smith College, worked as a New York city gallerist through season 4, subsequent mentions of being a MoMA docent.
- Blanche Devereaux, The Golden Girls: Museum assistant at a Miami art museum.
- Ross Geller, Friends: Paleontologist at the Museum of Prehistoric History, which is supposed to be the American Museum of Natural History.
- Hannah, Made of Honor: Director of Acquisitions, Metropolitan Museum of Art.
- Piper Perabo, Covert Affairs: CIA agent whose cover is Smithsonian employee.
- Eli Pope on Scandal, US government agent who previously was a paleontologist at the National Museum of Natural History.
Okay, my list is only ten characters long. But that is ten characters that have reputations for being smart and they’re tied together by academic major and/or career.
More interestingly, these backgrounds are mentioned as “throwaway” lines or occasional side plots and having little or nothing to do with the main narrative. Yet, we real-life museum workers get excited and see it as an exciting nod to our profession.
Is it chosen because our profession is unknown and mysterious?
Held to a higher moral standard?
Makes one seem really smart?
Are we just… cool?
For every line of dialogue that’s cut, why do these lines stay in?
How many more characters are also art historians and museologists but the dialogue gets cut before the final production?
There are, of course, also movies and television shows in which the main plot revolves around a museum or art historians:
- Night at the Museum’s Larry Daley is a security guard at the American Museum of Natural History; the movie trilogy bring him to the Smithsonian and British Museum.
- The DaVinci Code’s Jacques Saunière is a Louvre curator who is murdered, prompting Robert Langdon to solve the mystery of his death.
- Mona Lisa Smile’s Katherine Ann Watson teaches “History of Art” at Wellesley college.
But in each of these, the art history or museology plot is critical to the story. Then there are the movies about archaeologists and museologists who are actual real people doing real things, but I digress.
Going back to the original list of fictional-movie-and-television-characters-who-work-in-museums-or-have-art-history-degrees-which-only-tangentially-relate-to-the-main-narrative, my musings don’t have much of a conclusion as much as a wink back at the directors who wink at us. We notice. We get excited. And I hope that by making our profession the everyday life of demigods, futuristic medical doctors, political operatives, and spies, art history and museum work maintain a positive reputation.
Have some more movie-and-television art historians and museologists to share? Comment below or tweet @ me!
Edited to add additional characters from television and movies (though some are, if fact, plot points):
- Dr. Dithering, An American Tale, archaeologist, New York Museum of Natural History.
- Darby Carter, Love Life, tour guide and curator, Whitney Museum of American Art
- Ferdinand Lyle, Penny Dreadful, egyptologist, The British Museum
- Rupert Giles, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, curator at The British Museum
- Phoebe, 30 Rock, art dealer and auctioneer, Christies
- Marnie Michaels, Girls, gallery staff
- Bernard Thatch, West Wing, portrayed as working for the White House Visitors Office but position seems to be more aligned with the responsibilities of the White House Office of the Curator.
- Assane Diop, Lupin, maintenance at The Louvre
- Emily Gilmore, Gilmore Girls, docent at the Nantucket Whaling Museum
- Multiple characters, Bones, The Jeffersonian
- Multiple characters, Parks and Recreation, William Henry Harrison Museum
- Multiple one-time characters, The Simpsons, multiple Springfield museums
- Multiple one-time characters, Bob’s Burgers, multiple museums in unspecified town
- Multiple characters, Rutherford Falls, Rutherford Falls Heritage Museum & Minishonka Cultural Center
The Smithsonian also keeps a record of their television mentions, here.