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An Open Letter to Martin Scorsese

by Melissa Silverstein
January 8, 2014 10:52 AM
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Dear Mr. Scorsese-

Your letter to your daughter Francesca came to my attention and I just had a few comments in response. 

First, I apologize for not seeing The Wolf of Wall Street. There was a time not too long ago where I would have been one of the first people at the theatre to see your films.  Goodfellas is one of my all time favorites. But I can't bring myself to see The Wolf of Wall Street.  Women who I have spoken with have told me how difficult it was to sit through and how uncomfortable they were about the portrayals of women in the film. 

Hey, it might be a great film according to some folks. It might even win the Oscar, but I'm just not going to put myself through it. Life is too short.

Back to the letter 

I am really glad that you are excited about the future of film even while you acknowledge the closing of a chapter which you were one of the leaders of. I too am excited. This is the wild west and while it is scary for many filmmakers the possibilities are great. I'm really glad that you have exposed your daughter to many films since she was a young girl. I can't even imagine how cool it must have been to see films with you and have you explain shots and story details. She is a lucky girl.

But Mr. Scorsese, have you shown your daughter any films directed by women? You tell her how important it is for her to embrace her voice, but at the same time all the directors you name as people who keep you heartened about the future of moviemaking are all MEN.

And since she is a girl have you told her that it will be harder for her as a director? (Do you even know how hard it is for women?) That there are less opportunities for women, and that in 2012 only 9% of the top grossing films were directed by women? And will you also tell her that you got a DGA nomination yesterday and that no women were nominated? And have you told her yet that only one woman has ever won an Oscar for best director? 

I hope your daughter has a vision like you do. I would be delighted to see a movie directed by Francesca Scorsese. But remember, role models and visionaries come in both sexes and we need female directors to inspire young boys and girls so that all children can grow up and trust their voices and visions.


Melissa Silverstein

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  • Alan | April 22, 2014 8:17 AMReply

    What he says is possibly true but that is only because women directors are a relatively new thing, at least in terms of how long and how many good movies you have to make to establish a reputation like Mr S.

  • Sean Finnegan | January 17, 2014 6:13 PMReply

    I seriously can't wrap my head around how twisted and insincere this article is. No joke, I feel my blood boiling when I think about it too much. Scorsese's open letter to his daughter was an insightful, personal and inspiring glimpse into the perspective of one of cinema's greatest auteurs. The wisdom he imparted speaks volumes to filmmakers of all walks of life, regardless of gender, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. The values he cites are universally human.

    Ms. Silverstein, you are perverting the message of Marty's letter by making it about gender equality. Yes, gender equality is a huge problem in the film industry and in the media as a whole, and yes it's a hot button topic that's bound to get clicks, but in my opinion as a filmmaker and a writer it's nothing but intellectual fraud. You're making mountains out of molehills to criticize an artist for having his own preferences. His influences are his influences, and in this discipline we've all got our own preferences. Who he wants to tell his daughter about as far as filmmakers goes is his own deal. He owes nothing to you. He owes nothing to women as a social demographic. He owes nothing to anyone in this regard.

    I would be embarrassed to have written and published this.

  • aovinaovin | January 14, 2014 3:38 PMReply

    Chantal Ackerman wanted to be a filmmaker after watching Pierrot le Fou by Godard. Catherine Breillat wanted to be a filmmaker after watching Sawdust and Tinsel by Ingmar Bergman. Jane Campion's top ten on Criterion has one film by a female director.

    Not saying women directors don't deserve the same recognition in the film world, which you seem to think is Scorsese's opinion, especially when you brought up, "beside the point", the apparent misogyny of his newest film. However, I would argue that the gender behind those movies which influenced the above mentioned directors weren't recognized because of what kind of genitals their director's sported. They spoke to those women on a common, genderless level.

    Their artistic awakenings just happened to be nudged by men, and they felt it was fair play in the film world, a feeling which they acted upon and that started to change things. The source of influence doesn't matter when it creates the kind of change you're advocating.

  • Tommy | January 14, 2014 2:36 PMReply

    This is a ridiculous article. Scorsese named these directors because they're great, not because of their ethnicity, nationality, skin colour, gender or something else. And the worst thing about this is, that she actually won't watch The Wolf of Wall Street and make up her own mind. "No", she says, "if my friends say it's sexist and doesn't have female roles with depth, then it MUST be true!"

  • Adam | January 14, 2014 12:29 AMReply

    Gender is irrelevant, in my opinion. It's likely that the percentage of women in the industry is less than men. So, of course there aren't going to be as many female nominees. Not as many women choose this line of work. Scorcese chose to mention the names he did because of reasons meaningful to him, not based on gender to sympathize with her.

    I believe what he is doing, and is what I would do with my own daughter, is teach her as if she is no different from anyone else, that she would have to compete on a level that does not discriminate or provide any special treatment, and will slaughter anyone, man or woman, who can't compete.

    It may be tougher on women, but that just means she would have to work harder. And naturally, his daughter will figure that out on her own, without Scorces putting it in her mind that she has a disadvantage.

  • E | January 13, 2014 8:34 PMReply

    Maybe Scorsese didn't name any female directors because he doesn't think the filmmakers his daughter should aspire to be amongside needs to include females because his daughter is a female. He was objectively listing names. Also, like ANON stated, there were only white names but this doesn't mean he was trying to be unsupportive of filmmakers of color.

    Since he would like to involve his daughter in the world of film and cinema I hope that this means he doesn't exclude women from directing and such.

  • Rachel Feldman | January 11, 2014 11:55 PMReply

    Bravo Melissa.

  • cinemalover | January 10, 2014 8:38 PMReply

    I don't really see where this came from, as his letter was about cinema and filmmakers. The filmmakers listed just so happened to be men, so what? Why did this have to turn into a "girl-power" feminist rebuttal. Women expect equality in the film industry, working in this business I see countless women getting stuff done for films, in an office-setting and on-set. Have you ever considered the fact that those women who DO make films just don't ever make the cut due to quality? As proven, most recently with Kathryn Bigelow (love her films), women DO get recognition... when it is of quality work just like everyone else out there in the world. It is unfair to just pick women as "great filmmakers" for the sake of picking women. I'll give you an example, Sofia Coppola. She can make a decent film every now and then (personally I am not a fan of her work) but she gets plenty of recognition as a filmmaker and she is a woman. And by the way, these are people he thinks are great filmmakers, his subjective opinion and it doesn't have to match yours. I would like to know which women you would think deserve to be listed here as you have provided none.

  • GURNEYHALEK | January 10, 2014 3:06 AMReply

    Okay Melissa, since you're such an avid lover of women filmmakers, I challenge you to name TEN influential female filmmakers without having to search on Google.

    I'll give you a head start with 3 names: (1) Jane Campion (2) Kathryn Bigelow (3) Leni Reifenstahl

  • FP | January 14, 2014 11:18 PM

    Rena, your contribution is to bring up directors who made Herbie Fully Loaded, The Peacemaker, The Prince and I, The Mirror Has Two Faces, The Caveman's Valentine, the awful remake of Carrie, the over art-directed Across The Universe, and worst of all, the unintentionally laughable Twilight? Oh my.

    If women are ever going to attain equanimity, we should at least list the ones who made *good* films that were influential, if not watch them so that we can be inspired to be as good and influential. Try Netflixing these 10 women, and go from there:

    Anders, Breillat, Chadha, Cholodenko, Coppola, Denis, Jenkins, Marshall, Potter, Wertmuller

    Not all their films work, most made little money, but each is influential in their way, and could have easily made Scorsese's list.

  • Lala | January 14, 2014 6:38 PM

    Most of those on your list aren't what I would call "influential filmmakers" ( really, Barbra?). Yes, they're good, even excellent but are they more influential ( and dare I say better) than the ones Scorsese mentioned? Hell, no.

  • Rena | January 14, 2014 1:54 PM

    Ten women Directors? No problem
    1. Barbra Streisand
    2.Catherine Hardwicke
    3. Kimberly Pierce
    4. Julie Taymor
    5. Kassi Lemon
    6. Angela Robinson
    7. Nicole Holofcener
    8. Betty Thomas
    9. Martha Coolidge
    10. Mimi Leder

    I can go on if you'd like

  • SSman | January 9, 2014 2:36 PMReply

    An artist shouldn't have to cater towards anyone. Martin Scorsese is a brilliant filmmaker and to make him cave to the demands of "feminists" and other ideologies for the sake of political correctness is a sin. We create art so that we can explore all sorts of worlds and mindsets, and by creating a film like Wolf of Wall Street is bold and even praiseworthy, because it shows that Scorsese is going to give the audience an experience of immorality which leads us to to gain new perspectives on the meaning of such terms. This almost harkens back to Stanley Kubrick's Clockwork Orange which was seen as dangerous and shocking in its portrayal of sexuality and violence, yet nonetheless gave audience goers a perspective and a harbinger on the nature of human mischief. The Wolf Of Wall Street is a similar piece on the nature of greed, and because it explicitly bombards us with a portrayal of women and sex, the movie is intended to sicken us of the character's guiltlessness of his heinous actions. The movie doesn't tell us how to feel about the subject, we are supposed to watch it and respond as humanly we can to it. That is how Scorsese's brilliance works with the counterpoint of glamorization to what the subtext really is.

    Secondly, it is a shame that people judge a film like the Wolf of Wall Street without watching it. Art is supposed to be experienced up front. If you choose not to see it and then make claims about it, you are only perpetuating a generic ignorance and a lack of comprehension of the true nature of the piece. It is not wise to read a report on a film and then claim you know exactly what it means and what the filmmaker is saying (what you really know is what somebody else thinks with an injection of their own bias).

    Finally, just because Scorsese writes a letter to his daughter mentioning a few specific names doesn't mean he doesn't show her movies by female directors. He is talking about a select few great filmmakers of today who have created brilliant films, nothing more, nothing less. The fact that you're reading into a part of the letter (literally a sentence) as some grand mantra of Scorsese's antagonism towards women is absolute baloney and nothing more than a lame overreaction based on some political agenda of yours.

  • mkd500 | January 9, 2014 11:55 AMReply

    While I think it's brilliantly made, I am no fan of "Wolf," because I feel that Scorsese was a just a tad too entranced with the gonzo-ness of it all and lacked sufficient critical distance on his subject matter. That includes the enthusiastic depiction of hookers, although of course that was part of the world he's portraying. But I do think it's unfair to slag him as unsupportive of female filmmakers. Some years back Scorsese hosted a screening I attended for Debra Granik's first feature "Down the Bone" (which preceded "Winter's Bone"); he was clearly a major fan of the film was using his influence to try and get both Debra and Vera Farmiga, in her first significant role, out in front of audiences. It's hardly his fault that the history of great cinematic achievement is dominated by men -- and yes, white men -- because that's simply a fact, whether anyone likes it or not, although of course many people wish the history were different, myself included. At the same time, a title by Jane Campion and another by Charles Burnett would've gone a long way to both remove the sting and improve his list.

  • Anon | January 9, 2014 9:00 AMReply

    I think it's amazing that all you White women have been in an outrage about Scorsese not naming any women but at the same time have just completely ignored the fact that he only named White people. This right here is White feminism in a nutshell. We're supposed to feel bad about you not getting equal oppurtunities but you couldn't care less about the marginalization of men and women of color. This article is such a joke.

    & just as an fyi: I'm only trying to make a point about how hypocritical White feminists can be.
    I'm not actually upset that Scorsese didn't name any women or poc because I'm pretty sure that he was talking about filmmakers that get to make creative films with a good amount of money behind them. There aren't many women or poc in that position. This isn't his fault, it's just a sad reality.

  • joeybrite | January 25, 2014 5:07 PM

    I think it's interesting that you assume all the posters in here ARE white, hypocritical feminists. While I agree with a lot of what you're pissed about, I think you could have had a stronger impact on the issue of race by adding your own list here that would keep a positive vibe going to help promote poc female directors. But no. Instead you simply say that what the writer in this OPEN LETTER has done 'is such a joke'. Talk about reductionism. You've got another agenda and just aren't being out about it. To defend Scorsese or any one director by stating that the lack of female and/or poc directors even existing is 'just a sad reality' doesn't make an excuse for not writing about - and therefore, trying to influence - a better world for cinema to happen. One doesn't need to put down the writer in order to make the valid point you have.

  • Lala | January 14, 2014 6:41 PM

    @Jasmin, women make up more than half of the US population, black people about 13%. So what were you saying again?

  • Christopher Strong | January 9, 2014 3:34 PM

    Right. And why do something to change things you believe in when you can pick a random public figure and attack them for sins of omission that you make up on the spot? This completely undermines her valid thesis of underrepresentation of women filmmakers.

    What's underhanded and wrong is to attack a filmmaker who has been making movies for 40+ years, with an iconic style and often referencing his very specific background and childhood experience; which most of us pretty well know by now. Could she tout talented and overlooked women filmmakers, writers, producers, etc.? Nah, that would involve actual work. Complaining about what's *not* in one specific filmmaker's one letter to his daughter is an easy and lazy thing to do. And, the opportunities are limitless...really you can make up any sin of omission and attach them to any public figure and browbeat them for it.

  • jasmin | January 9, 2014 3:08 PM

    If you think there is a lack of women directors, writers and actors just look at the black statistics. Yes, it's even worse! I can't wait to see sixty one year old Liam Neeson in 'Non-stop' cause we never saw him kick ass before...

  • Christopher Strong | January 9, 2014 8:59 AMReply

    Oh No! Concern Troll (ie. Melissa Silverstein) is Concerned. I so tired of this. It's basically another example of Outrage Porn. Anyone can play that game: Why didn't Scorsese mention an appropriate ratio of African-American, Latino American, Native American & Asian American filmmakers in that letter? Why did he not have an appropriate ratio of French, Spanish, Mexican, Chilean, Canadian, Iranian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, British, Russian, German, Irish, Israeli, Australian, Indian etc. filmmakers? Reductio Ad Absurdum. This is what online cultural discourse has devolved into...Concern Trolling.

    How many films has Melissa Silverstein made? What contributions to film restoration has Melissa Silverstein accomplished? How many independent & foreign films has Melissa Silverstein brought to US theaters?

    Furthermore who is Melissa Silverstein to adjudicate what advice should be given in an open letter from Scorsese to his daughter? If she were in those same shoes, one would hope that random bloggers wouldn't attempt to pester and cajole and browbeat and badger and Concern Troll the living daylights out of those open letters solely for the page clicks and attention.

    Obviously it's easier to attack someone for sins of omission (THAT YOU DECIDED ALL BY YOURSELF) than to actually CREATE something. She can go pound sand as far as I'm concerned.

  • Sonya Alexander | January 9, 2014 7:13 AMReply

    For God's sake, I wish people would leave this man alone. He has been directing high-testosterone, macho films forever. He did however do "The Age of Innocence." Did any of his usual fanbase come out and say the film was too soft? Don't think so. But, in this era of being ultra-PC, now everything gets picked apart. "Wolf of Wall Street" reminded me of some of the 80s films that portrayed excess and decadence, "Wall Street," "American Psycho," "Less Than Zero." It's a shame you won't allow yourself to see the film because of the way women are portrayed. What if they're being portrayed correctly? Why should he have to harness in his form of storytelling so he doesn't offend anyone?

    I think the letter to his daughter is wonderful. He's not a female director and he's not obligated to be an advocate for women filmmakers. His films aren't things like "Steel Magnolias" or "The Notebook." Screenwriting #101 tells you to write what you know. Seems the same would apply to directing. Please leave this legendary director alone. It's bad enough that it took him so long to get an Oscar. All this knitpicking and tearing down someone's artform is sure sign of the times. And it's a sad one.

  • Orlando | January 15, 2014 3:06 AM

    American Psycho was directed by a woman. Who didn't get nearly as much credit or profile boost as she deserved. Food for thought.

  • Stephanie | January 9, 2014 4:37 PM

    I agree with most of what you wrote except this: "His films aren't things like "Steel Magnolias" or "The Notebook." Those movies were both made by men and are examples of what they presume all women want to see. I actually know more guys who like "The Notebook" than women.

  • Kathy | January 8, 2014 11:53 PMReply

    Thanks for speaking out, Melissa.

  • TinaC | January 8, 2014 12:45 PMReply

    This was a very very good movie. Sorry you're unwilling to watch it due to the way women are portrayed. I wasn't offended, but I don't tend to try and find offense for the sake of an argument.

  • Maxfly | January 8, 2014 12:13 PMReply

    Thank you so much for this letter. I have often, throughout my life, been on the recieving end of baffled looks of friends when I haven't raved over the latest Scorsese film. Don't get wrong I like his films, but I've never been gobsmacked, bowled over, cowered by awe at after watching one of his movies. It took me a long time to realize that it's because I just don't connect with the hyper masculinity of his films. They are good films, but generally I'd rather watch something with at least some women (interesting non victim women). I hope that his daughter, who I imagine is an intelligent creature, will recognize this dearth in her father's films and his education of her and seek out the female directors he's overlooked. It's what I've been trying to do for myself for years.

  • Lala | January 14, 2014 6:43 PM

    I don't think you get the letter. She wasn't talking about Scorsese's films in general ("Goodfellas is one of my all time favorites"), just this movie in particular. You're not really the smarty-pants you consider yourself to be.

  • vitriol | January 8, 2014 12:11 PMReply

    I applaud you for speaking out. I too, am not seeing the movie. One only had to look at the trailer and that part with Jonah Hill telling a blonde model to shut up, that it was his money that she was taping to her breasts, to see that something was wrong here. They say it's just art, but think of how many 7 yr old boys and girls are going to see this because the majority of Americans are completely uncritical of the movies they see and let their children see. For that reason, there is some moral responsibility for film makers, at least those in the mainstream, which is totally lacking in Hollywood. Think about if we had a country where the art actually tried to inspire good things in people.

  • joeybrite | January 25, 2014 4:55 PM

    Well stated. I find it very telling that one male following the next has been critical of this writer's OPEN LETTER here. It reminds of so much anti-abortion protesting by males. Just. Stop. Already. The defensiveness is disgusting. I really appreciated FP's list (from Jan 14) and actually respect the other one from Rena as well. Kasi Lemmon - my FAVORITE & she is rarely mentioned. We all need to keep being reminded of females in this industry who are able to even get ANY PROJECT funded and completed and screened. Whether it's television, now Netflix, or cinema. Until more female writers, directors, producers, show runners, and every single aspect of creating our visual culture is a reality, defensive, white males of privilege will continue to rule the cinematic roost. I'll be so bold as to add to the list here with Shonda Rhimes, Lena Dunham, and Yvonne Welbon. And no - to the GURNEYHALAK's who are clueless: I didn't need to Google search any of those. You see, for more than a handful of us, we actually have been paying attention for a long time. Keeping lists and taking names. And helping to give props to all the females who lift us up just a little higher over your woman-hating heads.

  • Pravda | January 9, 2014 3:31 PM

    Unfortunalely VIT, it is clear that you are a stranger to cinema. To generalize that the last 20 years of cinema is "crap" shoveled into the audience is just utterly outlandish. If you've seen anything that has remotely been in a theater in the past 20 years you see that some films are quite wonderful pieces of work.

    Also, if you claim that this movie is "Pro Wall Street" then you are completely wrong about everything this movie is about. I bet you haven't even seen the film more or less understood what it is supposed to say. It portrays the excess so that you can comment in your own way about the immorality of the character and see how he is ultimately destroyed by it. Wolf very much shows how the system of Wall Street has generated an environment where people are dedicating their lives to money and as a result are losing a real sense of happiness to a falser materialist world. Jordan Belfort is a prime example of this in the film. And even though he is the protagonist does NOT necessarily make him a likable character. In fact he is more of an anti-hero.

    Next, if art only "tried" to inspire good things in people, we would be living in a cinema which lacks diversity and fails to inspire interest. There are bad people who do bad things. and we need as much a inner perspective from the bad in order to understand what drives our malovence (just as we watch things about inspiring people which helps us understand our creativity and compassion). Too say we need more of one at the expense of the other is unwise and ignorant.

  • Vit | January 8, 2014 1:50 PM

    It is not the audiences who have abandoned moral ambiguity in films, but the films themselves, who have been shoveling us such crap for the last 20 years. There's not a lot of different ways to see crap, and people who do so are fooling themselves.

  • Vit | January 8, 2014 1:43 PM

    Sexism as entertainment,- meant to be understood by sexists as amusing, -is not an unbiased portrayal of just a "sexist character". The fact that this scene was highlighted in the trailer shows this was meant to appeal to movie goers and a selling point for the film. The defenses of this film just ring so hollow. The subject matter of this film is presented as entertainment and the characters are said to be likable, in their unlikable ways. This is gleaned from reviews from critics who loved the movie. Scorsese and DiCaprio have expressed respect towards Belfort. Some of us find that questionable and very extremely poorly timed. Are critics and movie makers aware that Wall Street is not in good standing in this country right now? A pro-Wall Street movie, or even a movie that could be interpreted as being pro-Wall Street, is fishy and insulting to people's intelligence.

  • gra | January 8, 2014 1:26 PM

    It is not the responsibility of the filmmakers to be role models for children, age restrictions are there for a reason and it is the responsibility of the parents to ensure that children are not exposed to such films. If it was the responsibility of the filmmakers then films couldn't have violence, swearing, sex, drugs or adult themes. Art also doesn't have to inspire good things in people, it's art, it can be what it wants. If all art was homogenised then what would be the point of it?

  • gra | January 8, 2014 1:05 PM

    The characters in this film are not heroes, and the film does not pretend that they are. Sexist characters do not make the film sexist, just like Schindler's list isn't anti-semetic. The film is about excess, greed and getting what they want, which includes women

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