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Jeneé Osterheldt

Spoiler alert, Martin Scorsese: People connect with Marvel movies


Come get your uncle, Hollywood.

Martin Scorsese can dislike Marvel movies all he wants. But to invalidate them as films is the kind of elitist thinking that plagues the art world.

“I don’t see them. I tried, you know? But that’s not cinema,” Scorsese said of Marvel films in an Empire magazine interview. “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.”

Odin’s beard, that’s bull. Clearly, Scorsese’s never heard the sobs of hundreds of Marvel fans at the end of the first “Avengers: Infinity War”? When Cardi B. drops a “Wakanda Forever” in “Money,” millions of listeners intuitively cross their fists across their chests for the love of “Black Panther.” I guess the thousands of little girls demanding Marvel make Gamora and Black Widow toys after “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Avengers” don’t count as emotionally connected human beings.

Does Scorsese even know that “X-Men” the comic and, subsequently, the movies, were partly inspired by the civil rights movement? The late Stan Lee was a modern marvel.


I know, I know. Scorsese made “Taxi Driver,” “Goodfellas,” “Casino,” and his resume is drowning in dramatic greatness. I mean, he directed “Bad” by Michael Jackson and played Sykes in “Shark Tale.”

But guess what? You can be a genius and wrong at the same time. Be honest. Based on a true story or not, “The Wolf of Wall Street” is simply “Iron Man” without superpowers. If Tony Stark didn’t grow a heart and use all that privilege to buy toys and save the world, he’d very likely be Jordan Belfort.


This isn’t just about Marvel films, either. Scorsese’s supercilious sentiments are the kind of thing that makes movie critics side-eye superhero films and dismiss them as junk food.

It’s an attack of the fantastical imagination and a recurring hammer dropped by the gatekeepers in the world of so-called fine arts.

The music world once demonized hip-hop. It took Blondie to get MTV to put rap on television in 1981. When the Grammys added a rap category in 1989, the show didn’t even air the award. This is why it was such a big deal when Kendrick Lamar took home a Pulitzer last year.

High fashion turned its nose up at streetwear. Now streetwear is the highlight of Fashion Week.

People used to call the police on graffiti artists and in galleries, Basquiat was a unicorn. Now graffiti artists regularly get paid to paint museum walls and corporate spaces. Street art is just as fine as any other art.

Art is not for the art world. Art is for the people. And when folk like Scorsese, celebrated for their genius by “junk food lovers” and high-brow fans alike, start playing police of whose voice matters we need to Hulk-smash that trash.

The hierarchy of the arts needs to be destroyed. We can dislike what we want, but to strip it of meaning altogether is the kind of divisive behavior that whitewashes the Oscars, that makes moviegoers feel like art house films are not for them, and paints museums as spaces meant for pretentious darlings instead of everyday people.


When Variety asked Samuel L. Jackson, who has been in both Scorsese and Marvel films, what he thought about the anti-Marvel madness he turned it back on Scorsese.

“I mean that’s like saying Bugs Bunny ain’t funny. Films are films. Everybody doesn’t like his stuff either,” Jackson said. “Everybody’s got an opinion, so it’s OK. It’s not going to stop anyone from making movies.”

This is true. Scorsese can’t stop Marvel (“Avengers: Endgame” took in nearly $3 billion worldwide). Or Star Wars. Or Harry Potter. Or DC — “Joker” debuted over the weekend and nabbed the top spot as the biggest October opening of all time at $93.5 million.

But his Hollywood gravitas cannot be ignored. Scorsese’s scathing comments contribute to critics and academies treating comics like kryptonite and only issuing acclaim for special effects and costumes. This half-cooked thinking is why some film buffs try to distance themselves from comic books. They want to be taken seriously.

As controversial as “Joker” is, the making of it came with a pompous attitude, too. Again and again, Todd Phillips likened it more to a Scorsese movie than a comic book film.

Others call it a departure into something dark and new for comic book story lines, as if “Sin City,” “Daredevil,” and “Jessica Jones” don’t exist.

A critic at Variety called Joker “the rare comic-book movie that expresses what’s happening in the real world.”


But comic book films have always found ways to tackle real world experiences and feelings of marginalization, being otherized, and the extraordinary potential of everyday people. As Miles Morales in “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” says: “Anyone can wear the mask.”

“Spider-Man” gets remade over and over because we all saw ourselves in the nerdy underdog that is Peter Parker. I’m sorry Scorsese denies himself the pleasure. “Fantastic Four” got panned, but as a black girl with a white sister, seeing the Storm siblings meant real life representation. You think “Captain America” doesn’t have historical inspiration? Come on.

“Joker” was dark, depressing, beautiful, and uncomfortable. Fun fact: a movie can borrow from both “The Dark Knight” and “Taxi Driver” at the same time. Comic book films have soul, too.

Cinema is not just an escape for the so-called sophisticated and refined. Culture belongs to the people. And millions of us like our silver screens with a serving of superheroes.

Our spidey senses are tingling with a need for nuance rather than more of the same old superiority from men pretending like they never yearned to fly or have superstrength.

Then again, privilege must feel like a superpower.

Jeneé Osterheldt can be reached at jenee.osterheldt@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @sincerelyjenee.