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11 October 2019 23:48

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Marvel Writer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Says Martin Scorsese Is "Culturally Right" About Superhero Movies

Director Martin Scorsese's claim to Empire magazine that Marvel films aren't "cinema" is like saying the novel Fifty Shades of Grey isn't "literature." He's technically wrong — but he's culturally right. 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. High school makes many of us resistant to definitions of High Art. We are forced to read poems, plays and novels we don't understand and then are told there are "hidden meanings" that we're just not smart enough to see. He was making the distinction between melodrama (entertainment) and drama (art): Melodrama emphasizes plot over character, while drama (or cinema for Scorsese) emphasizes character over plot. While it's true that there is much great entertainment within the melodramatic genres of mysteries, thrillers, romances, science fiction and so on, most are just straightforward stories with the main intent of exciting the readers' emotions: fear, joy, love, hate, etc.

Scorsese admitted that he's never seen a Marvel movie all the way through and I feel sorry for him that he hasn't experienced the sheer joy, humor and excitement of these films. Kevin Smith has now weighed in on Martin Scorsese's controversial Marvel Cinematic Universe comments. Scorsese previously said that the MCU movies were not "real cinema." Everybody from James Gunn to Robert Downey Jr. have talked about the situation from the Marvel point of view. There's no question that Smith is a huge fan of superhero movies and comic books, so his remarks should come as no surprise to anybody really. "Martin Scorsese probably doesn't have the emotional attachment to those movies that I do.

We are seeing some of the human element to these characters and fans can identify to certain traits, just like Kevin Smith was referring to. He also argued that Martin Scorsese himself might have actually made a superhero movie. "Martin Scorsese has made such wonderful movies. Kevin Smith is referring to Martin Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ, which was seen as controversial when it came out. Kevin Smith makes a bold comparison in addressing Martin Scorsese's Marvel comments Kevin Smith would like to respectfully let Martin Scorsese know that he's maybe, kind of, just a little full of it.

The filmmaker and comic book writer responded to Scorsese's recent comments denigrating Marvel films with the observation that, in his book, Scorsese is responsible for the biggest superhero movie ever: 1988's The Last Temptation of Christ. "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," Scorsese said. Well, as perhaps the greatest living film director, Scorsese is certainly entitled to his opinion, a statement that Smith was in full agreement with when asked for his take on the director's remarks. "Martin Scorsese has made such wonderful movies," Smith said. "The Last Temptation of Christ is a superhero movie," Smith said.

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. 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. 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.

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"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. I'm sure when Martin Scorsese offhandedly dismissed the idea of comic book movies, he didn't expect the backlash it's gotten in fan communities online. "Martin Scorsese probably doesn't have the emotional attachment to those movies that I do. I would say this, and I'm not countering Mr. Scorsese: Martin Scorsese made perhaps the biggest superhero movie ever made."