The latest figure to weigh in on Martin Scorsese's comments dismissing superhero movies is Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who many might know for his legacy in the NBA but has also written a number of comic books, noting that, while interpreting his comments literally proves that the filmmaker is objectively wrong, but his point is "culturally right." In a new opinion piece for The Hollywood Reporter, Abdul-Jabbar admits how big of a fan he is of superhero films and what they represent, but that the director of Raging Bull and Taxi Driver was merely citing the distinction between "High Art" and the filmmaking on display in massive blockbusters.
"Scorsese wasn’t denigrating Marvel films so much as making a distinction between High Art (an accurate but cringe-worthy term) that we might see in a museum or featured on NPR, and regular everyday art that we might see on our t-shirts and tattoos," the writer notes. "Scorsese is stating the obvious: Rembrandt’s 'The Storm on the Sea of Galilee' is not on the same level as Coolidge’s 'Dogs Playing Poker,' no matter how much those dogs make us smile. Nor will Peter Benchley’s novel Jaws ever match the magnificence of Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, despite selling millions more copies. Captain America will never be James Baldwin."
During a chat with Empire Magazine to discuss his new film The Irishman, Scorsese was asked his opinion on comic book movies, noting that he had previously attempted to become invested in them, but couldn't emotionally connect with them.
“I don’t see them. I tried, you know? But that’s not cinema,” Scorsese admitted. “Honestly, the closest I can think of them, as well made as they are, with actors doing the best they can under the circumstances, is theme parks. It isn’t the cinema of human beings trying to convey emotional, psychological experiences to another human being.”
Abdul-Jabbar was able to interpret these comments on good faith, pointing out that claiming Marvel movies are "not cinema" would be like saying 50 Shades of Grey is "not literature," with both remarks being objectively wrong, rather serving as a distinction of their impact on our culture. The writer points out one major difference between the two storytelling efforts being that High Art, like "cinema," focuses more on how a character changes over the course of a journey whereas superhero movies emphasize offering an engaging and fulfilling narrative, regardless of how compelling and complex those characters might be.
"Marvel films have made me laugh, cry, jump, agonize, and almost always leave the theater feeling lighter and more satisfied than when I went in," Abdul-Jabbar notes. "And that’s not nothing. But it’s also not everything. With Marvel melodrama we feel better. With High Art, we are wiser."
Martin Scorsese is credited as a producer on Joker, which is in theaters now.
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Image courtesy of Allen Berezovsky/FilmMagic