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Martin Scorsese Couldn’t Think of One Female Filmmaker to Celebrate in an Open Letter to His Daughter on the Future of Cinema

I’m not sure what prompted Martin Scorsese, a few days ago, to send his daughter an “open letter” by way of an Italian news magazine called L’Espresso. Perhaps she hasn’t called in a while, though she’s 14 and likely lives at home; perhaps there’s some young editor at L’Espresso who thought this form would bring Scorsese closer to his public. In any event, it was an oddly simpering way to start off a piece of life advice from a great director. Not to mention condescending in a gendered sort of way; people never seem to write open letters to their young sons.

I wish I could tell you that Scorsese elevated the form, but sadly, no. After waxing rhapsodic for several paragraphs about “cinema” — a red flag of a word if ever there was one, indicating that the writer is about to disappear into a fog of self-regard — we get to this doozy of a paragraph:

I don’t want to repeat what has been said and written by so many others before me, about all the changes in the business, and I’m heartened by the exceptions to the overall trend in moviemaking – Wes Anderson, Richard Linklater, David Fincher, Alexander Payne, the Coen Brothers, James Gray and Paul Thomas Anderson are all managing to get pictures made, and Paul not only got The Master made in 70mm, he even got it shown that way in a few cities. Anyone who cares about cinema should be thankful.

I’m going to wager that there are some cinephile men reading this thinking “so what”? And then the cinephile women noticing, usually without comment, that this list of “exceptions” includes only men. (Only white men, in fact.) Men are the people to whom Martin Scorsese’s daughter, and “anyone who cares about cinema” should be genuflecting.

I mean, sure, movie directing is a male-dominated industry, and Scorsese can only select his heartening examples from the sample pool available. But there are two approaches you can take, particularly when “writing to your daughter” about institutional sexism. One is to admit that it exists and find it regrettable and wherever possible note that fact explicitly so that when your young female reader’s eye hits the long list of men you’re about to spew out, they don’t feel discouraged. The other, and the one Scorsese chose, is to blithely ignore the sexism, and suggest that it is not only not regrettable that men (white men) currently dominate the industry, but actually a thing we ought to celebrate.

It’s strange, you know, because I’m not one of those people who will immediately conclude from this that Scorsese “hates” women. We know that Scorsese has worked with at least one of this era’s great female directors, Allison Anders (he executive-produced her Grace of My Heart, which starred his sometime-girlfriend Illeana Douglas). I don’t think, of course, that Scorsese is in any way deliberately disavowing Anders’ work by not including her here; but there’s something about the way he’s forgotten that she exists, when he sits down to write about the future of cinema, that goes to the heart of this whole issue. It’s less about “hatred” or “misogyny” than it is about forgetting a thing which, when you are a woman trying to work in a male-dominated industry, you simply lack the ability to forget.

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