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‘Watchmen’ Creator Damon Lindelof Weighs in on Martin Scorsese’s Marvel Criticisms

Damon Lindelof disagrees with Martin Scorsese about his recent claims that Marvel movies don’t qualify as cinema.

The director’s proclamation, along with the polarized critical reception of “Joker,” are the latest salvos in a long history of questioning comic book movies’ place in cinematic history. The lingering question: Can superhero fare be considered “high art?” Lindelof, the creator of HBO’s “Watchmen” series weighed in on the debate, while defending his show’s artistic merits and social relevance.

“There’s a space in Marvel movies that they are beginning to explore and are beginning to be provocative and interesting,” Lindelof told Variety on the red carpet at the “Watchmen” premiere in Hollywood on Monday night. “‘Logan’ or ‘Black Panther’ are very close in my opinion to cinema and to put all Marvel movies in the same box doesn’t seem fair.”

Lindelof went on to suggest that Scorsese’s opinion might be ill-informed. “I’m just curious as to how many Marvel movies he has seen,” he said. “I don’t view it as a put down. I think there has to be space for popular entertainment and indie fare and cinema.” Lindelof joked about his own personal taste, adding “You’re talking to a guy who eats at Sizzler.”

As for “Watchmen,” Lindelof speculated that Scorsese would deem the series “cinema” by his own definition, mentioning that he took a class on the director while studying at NYU. “The original ‘Watchmen’ has checked all those boxes and those are boxes we aspire to,” he explained, adding, “[Watchmen] has always been literature. I’m not the only person to see it that way.”

The HBO series continues the mythology of its source, a graphic novel that has enjoyed an elevated status for its medium, with Time Magazine listing Alan Moore’s 1986 graphic novel as one of the 100 greatest pieces of English literature among the likes of James Joyce and Virginia Woolf.

And “Watchmen” has always been an answer to serious questions, according to Lindelof. “What’s the existential dread? What’s the unbeatable enemy?” For the 1980s graphic novel that “unbeatable enemy” and “existential dread” is the Cold War and the threat of nuclear holocaust. “If you’re facing nuclear Armageddon, how does a superhero beat that? ‘Watchmen’ tried to answer that question,” he recalled.

But what’s the contemporary analog? “This country is long overdue for a reckoning about race,” Lindelof declared. “The true history of our country has been camouflaged and that needs to be revealed. ‘Watchmen’ answers those questions and those answers aren’t easy.”

In bringing diverse perspectives to tell a story that brings the conversation about race front and center, Lindelof wanted to avoid “tokenism” in the writers’ room. “In our writers’ room we created a white male minority,” he explained, adding that four of the 12 writers were white men. “I went into that writers’ room saying, I really need to listen.”

Regina King gave a visual case for the importance of representation in “Watchmen.” While speaking to reporters on the carpet, she turned around and pointed to the background wall plastered with posters of her character Angela clad in her superhero outfit with the iconic bright yellow “Watchmen” font superimposed. Angela was the sole character featured.

“It says ‘Watchmen,’” she explained, emphasizing the “men.” “And it’s a woman. And it’s a black woman. That’s f—king huge, the fact [Lindelof] trusted me to do that.” When asked if she would ever sit in the director’s chair for an episode, King replied, “If we get the opportunity to come back, absolutely.”

“Watchmen” premieres Oct. 20 on HBO.

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