Scorsese's Women: 2 Video Essays Explore How the Director Depicts the Fairer Sex

When a director as capable as Martin Scorsese makes a film, every one of its dimensions offers so much in terms of education. The editing, cinematography, use of sex and violence, and storytelling in his films have been studied before on NFS, but if you're looking to add a new dimension to your Scorsese expertise, take a second to check out two separate video essays that explore the director's representations of women by cutting together scenes from each of his films.

One of the things I love most about Scorsese's films is the fact that most of his characters always seem to be doomed from the start regardless of their actions, intentions, or redeeming qualities (Travis Bickle, Henry Hill, Billy from The Departed). No one's safe from a machine gun spray in a Scorsese flick.

But, how does Scorsese treat his female characters on-screen? This is a topic that really picked up some steam after the theatrical release of The Wolf of Wall Street with some critics not only arguing that the film marginalized women, but also wondering if his other films shared that common thread.

Here are the two video essays. The first was put together by Nelson Carvajal, and the second by Dina Fiasconaro -- and both videos have different things to say. While Carvajal explores both the idealization/worship and abuse/mistreatment of women in Scorsese's films (read this excellent write-up here), Fiasconaro, who created the video to accompany some academic research, explores his films through specific instances and categories.

Some may watch the videos above and find nothing wrong with Scorsese's representations of women, while others watch them and do. Two things to think about:

  1. If you've never studied the representation of females in cinema, you should! It's interesting! It'll shed some light onto why disregarding all of the prostitutes and screaming hysterical women in his films may not be so wise.
  2. Scorsese deals in excess and extremes. It's what he does best. His greatest films depict scenes of great violence, over-the-top greed, and wild personalities, and the fast and hard downfall of his characters is kind of the point of watching a Scorsese flick.

So, does Scorsese marginalize his female characters? I don't know. Maybe -- I'd have to do some research. But what I do know is that he tortures all of his characters, male and female -- and I don't mean just by putting them through violent beatings and shootings. Scorsese creates them to be these larger-than-life characters with personalities and habits that eventually lead to their unhinging. It's one of the greatest parts of Scorsese's cinema.

What do you think about Scorsese's representations of women on-screen? Let us know in the comments below.


[via Fandor]

You Might Also Like

Your Comment


So perhaps somebody should write an article about how Scorsese portrays most men as violent, often sociopathic, criminals. Naughty Scorsese.

February 21, 2014 at 6:49AM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM


No not in the least bit. Sad but brilliantly what Scorsese does is capture the reality of life. Whether you're getting sprayed by bullets, slapped across the face or high on drugs unfortunately that's in the real world and nobody does it better than Scorsese. Most of the underbelly in the real world is not that glamorous at least for the big screen but the way Scorsese portrays those characters I don't know how you would tell a compelling story without a little marginalizing. It's almost like saying all Italians should be offended. I say get over it, it's nothing more than some good old fashion entertainment. Cinema has a way of constantly starting debates which is a good thing, we should raise awareness and offer the types of women in Scorsese films help but to say that the charters in his movies marginalizes women is silly. Truth is stranger than fiction and sometimes the facts hurt but its not Scorseses fault, sometimes the characters in his film just marginalize themselves. In fact a lot of us in society give many reasons for us to marginalize ourselves. Sad but true. Thanks

February 21, 2014 at 7:43AM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM

Anthony Marino

The examples in video two all seem appropriate, given the story constituents of dealing with criminal scum or tough guys. It fits.

February 21, 2014 at 8:47AM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM


I did a piece on this for a Mexican newspaper and I'm not afraid to say there's no misogyny in Scorsese's view. His male characters are abusive and share a deep insecurity which makes them regard women as walking archetypes, totems of adoration that when ensnared by that objectification end up falling along with the men. The dialectical structure of every single Scorsese film explores the responsibility of people in their demises and thus it's completely ironic because it's expressing tragic, tragicomic and melodramatic characters; there's a detachment between what they're doing and what Scorsese is saying. His films are about people who make terrible mistakes and women are as wrong as his men are. To me it doesn't seem like they're weaker or more cruel. They're as important in the narratives and they make their own mistakes. They're not victims who simply suffer under male domination. So Scorsese might be criticized for making misanthropic films since they all show people (neither exclusively men or women) crashing down, but that would also be unfair since several films conclude with forgiveness, redemption or the simple fact that though something is lost, life goes on. Scorsese's is the work of a humanist who acknowledges his own flaws and tries to spare his audience from them by showing the mistakes he's made.

February 21, 2014 at 8:56AM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM


I was going to type up a few words....but...

"His films are about people who make terrible mistakes and women are as wrong as his men are. To me it doesn’t seem like they’re weaker or more cruel. They’re as important in the narratives and they make their own mistakes. They’re not victims who simply suffer under male domination."

Alonso nailed it.

And lets not forget that these are "movies" - with a director following a script - often not 100% his own.

February 21, 2014 at 11:07AM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM

Greg Egan

This may be the best response and explanation i've read on the matter of Scorsese and his films. If i could, i'd shake your hand. This is ON POINT with how I feel over the matter.

February 21, 2014 at 11:13AM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM


Sorry if I appear off subject, but you could almost be describing Peckinpah too, since I recall accusations of violent misogyny, which I felt were unfounded.

February 21, 2014 at 12:31PM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM


Also I find it funny they these "documentaries" ignore HUGO.

February 21, 2014 at 11:09AM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM

Greg Egan

TBH I haven't watched them all the way but I am guessing 'Kundun' won't be getting much attention in there either; doesn't fit the stereotype...

February 22, 2014 at 5:05AM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM


These "essays" are not put together by scholars, or experts.
Just amateurs who know what Vimeo is.

Want to learn more about Scorsese? Buy a tome about his life's work and style by an expert. Don't watch this kind of amateur nonsense.

February 22, 2014 at 2:44AM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM

Fresno Bob

Or watch his movies and get your own opinion...

February 22, 2014 at 4:59AM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM


Not sure where you're getting your information. Fiasconaro is an assistant professor in film at Stevenson University. Not that traditional credentials mean a whole lot when it comes to what one knows about film.

Maybe instead of criticizing people offering free resources, you could simply add to the conversation by sharing your own expertise.

February 22, 2014 at 11:21PM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM

V Renée
Content Manager at Coverfly

"Maybe instead of criticizing people offering free resources, you could simply add to the conversation by sharing your own expertise."'

Yes - credentials are worth about as much as you do with them (or without them).

March 14, 2015 at 7:27PM


Sharon Stone looked great in "Casino", almost as good as she looked in "King Solomon's Mines" ten years earlier.

January 2, 2015 at 11:10AM

Marc B
Shooter & Editor

Marty portrays women as powerful, with deep influence into his male characters actions. Its cause and effect, men seemingly in charge, and the mighty woman knowing that with one pick of the string it can all turn to shit. Critics need there asses handed to them.. Cinema is one form of art that studying and understanding are two seperate entities.

February 16, 2015 at 7:53AM


I watched both and found Fiasconaro's video the more compelling. I didn't really know what Caravajal was going for with his video until I read the essay - which may be my fault, but on first view it struck me as a series of loosely-assembled clips without a thematic throughline (other than, "here are some women in Scorsese's films"). Fiasconaro's work, while ostensibly designed to be seen in conjunction with a lecture, functioned quite well on its own, seemed more highly organized, and yet retained an ambiguity because of the lack of narration. I don't know if a particular takeaway was intended, to me but it was not that Scorsese marginalizes women but rather that he effectively portrays abusive and demeaning situations without watering them down. Thanks for discussing these pieces!

March 14, 2015 at 7:31PM, Edited March 14, 7:31PM


Also, on a formal note I'm really not a fan of cropping the aspect ratio to make everything blend together, which hurt Carvajal's video in my opinion. This is a heterogeneous body of work and should be treated as such! (In my opinion)

March 14, 2015 at 7:35PM