Martin Scorsese Complains Streaming Content Devalues Cinema

Martin Scorsese complains streaming services’ use of algorithms reduces users to consumers and laments that movies are now seen as content.

Martin Scorsese complains in a new essay that cinema as an art form is being devalued by streaming services’ use of algorithms. In his nearly 60-year career, Scorsese has been nominated for Best Director at the Academy Awards nine times, winning for The Departed, and has directed nine movies that have been nominated for Best Picture. His other accolades include three BAFTAs, two Directors Guild awards, three Golden Globes, and many more.

Considering Scorsese’s prolific career, he’s one of Hollywood’s most well-respected figures. This is why many pay attention to his opinions on the current state of filmmaking. Scorsese has garnered attention in the past for his comments on Marvel movies especially, calling them “not cinema” and comparing them to “theme parks.” Those remarks, made in late 2019, caused many creatives who have worked on superhero films to publicly disagree with Scorsese. The director eventually explained his comments in more detail in an op-ed, citing the inherently formulaic nature of Marvel movies.

Now, Scorsese is back with more remarks on the current state of cinema. In the latest issue of Harper’s Magazine, Scorsese writes an essay celebrating the late filmmaker Federico Fellini. In it, he laments what movies are now viewed as, saying “the art of cinema is being systematically devalued, sidelined, demeaned, and reduced to its lowest common denominator, ‘content.'” Scorsese goes on to blame streaming services specifically, including their use of algorithms over curation:

If further viewing is “suggested” by algorithms based on what you’ve already seen, and the suggestions are based only on subject matter or genre, then what does that do to the art of cinema?

Curating isn’t undemocratic or “elitist,” a term that is now used so often that it’s become meaningless. It’s an act of generosity—you’re sharing what you love and what has inspired you. (The best streaming platforms, such as the Criterion Channel and MUBI and traditional outlets such as TCM, are based on curating—they’re actually curated.) Algorithms, by definition, are based on calculations that treat the viewer as a consumer and nothing else.

Considering Scorsese’s past comments on the movie business, it isn’t surprising to hear him weigh in on streaming. However, it’s a bit rich for the director to complain about streaming services when he not only made The Irishman for Netflix, but is also making his next movie, an adaptation of Killers of the Flower Moon, for Apple TV+. For all Scorsese’s hand-wringing about democratic versus undemocratic, streaming services actually make moviemaking and moviegoing more democratic in some ways; the price of a streaming subscription versus a movie ticket is more affordable for many people, thus bringing more movies to more individuals.

Additionally, with more streamers now around looking to throw money at creators, that could enable projects to get made that could have been overlooked before the rise in this newer form of content distribution. It’s hard to see the harm in more filmmakers having a voice and finding an audience. Martin Scorsese has some old-school ideas, and he’s earned the right to say whatever he wants. However, the movie industry was built on innovation, and that shows no signs of changing anytime soon.