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Martin Scorsese on LGBTQ people: “Growing up, I felt for them.”

Breaking NewsViews Ryan Di Corpo / January 23, 2024 Print this:
Martin Scorsese at the book launch for "In the Company of Jesus," a biography of James Martin, S.J., by Jon Sweeney, with Father Martin's nephews Matthew (center) and Charles, at America Media in New York City, February 4, 2020. (Photo courtesy of Isabelle Senechal)

In an interview published by America with the Academy Award-winning director Martin Scorsese, nominated this morning for his latest feature, “Killers of the Flower Moon,” I spoke with Scorsese about his relationship to the LGBTQ community and his decision to executive produce “Building a Bridge,” a 2021 documentary chronicling the pastoral work of Outreach editor James Martin, S.J.

The following is an excerpt from the America magazine interview:

I work closely with our mutual friend, Father James Martin, on LGBTQ ministry. Why did you agree to executive produce “Building a Bridge” a few years ago? Did you have any connection to Father Martin’s work? 

Yes, I’d read some of his books. Some members of my family are part of the LGBTQ community. We worked on “Silence” together. That’s when I first met [Father Martin]. But I just knew the difficulties, the brutality of life around LGBTQ people back in the early ’50s, growing up. A couple members of my family were gay, and I saw what they went through and what they still go through.

I knew them as good people. How do you explain it? You just know them as a person. What their preferences are, how they’re made, what their DNA is—I don’t know. It’s who they are. I came from a world where the way you “change” an LGBTQ person is you beat them up. Growing up, I felt for them, particularly during the AIDS crisis.

In a 2022 interview with The New Yorker, Scorsese detailed how homosexuality was considered an unspeakable taboo during his childhood. “It was never mentioned by priests, never mentioned in the pulpit, never mentioned in the house, never talked about at all,” he told the journalist Paul Elie.

Scorsese also discussed one of his gay cousins, a married man who died from AIDS-related complications in the 1990s. The director called on the church to work towards greater inclusion for people on the peripheries. “Catholicism is supposed to be about inclusion. If the outsider is out there—is my naïve way of thinking—that’s what you have to embrace,” he said in 2022. “It’s who the person is. It seemed very clear to me that this was a shortcoming of the Church.”

Outreach managing editor Ryan Di Corpo (left), then a Joseph A. O’Hare, S.J., fellow at America, speaks with Martin Scorsese in New York City, February 4, 2020. At center is James T. Keane, a senior editor at America. (Photo courtesy of Isabelle Senechal)

Father Martin served as a consultant on Scorsese’s 2016 film “Silence,” an adaptation of the Shūsaku Endō novel about 17th-century Jesuit missionaries in Japan. The Jesuit author also led the actor Andrew Garfield for a year in preparing for his role, guiding him through the Spiritual Exercises. “It’s this transformational process where you do these imaginative, meditative prayers with the life of Jesus,” explained Garfield to Stephen Colbert in 2017.

Scorsese subsequently cast Father Martin as a priest performing a baptism in “The Irishman,” which received ten Oscar nominations in 2020. The documentary “Building a Bridge” premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2021.

Ryan Di Corpo

Ryan Di Corpo is the managing editor of Outreach. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, America, Boston College Magazine, The Emancipator and elsewhere. He holds an M.A. in journalism from Northeastern University, in Boston.

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