Before Steven Spielberg directed the classic 1993 historical drama Schindler’s List, it was originally in the hands of Martin Scorsese. Scorsese now says he handed the film to Spielberg for a variety of reasons.

Why did Martin Scorsese give Schindler’s List to Steven Spielberg?

Speaking to Deadline in an exclusive profile, the legendary director was asked about the film, which Spielberg offered him the chance to direct. While Scorsese nearly did, he eventually gave back the project to Spielberg, and cited the reception to his 1988 film The Last Temptation of Christ as one of the factors why.

“For Schindler’s List, I hired Steve Zaillian, and Steve and I worked on the script,” said Scorsese. “I was about to direct it. But I had reservations at a certain point. Don’t forget, this is 1990, I’d say. I did The Last Temptation of Christ in 1988. The whole point of that movie was to start a dialogue about something which is still important to me, which is the nature — the true nature — of love, which could be god, could be Jesus. I’m not being culturally ambivalent here, it’s what’s in us. Is god in us? I really am that way; I can’t help it. I like to explore that.”

Scorsese went on to say that he felt the story of Schindler’s List would probably be better served being told by an actual Jewish person.

“In the case of Schindler’s List, the trauma I had gone through was such that I felt to tackle that subject matter… I knew there were Jewish people upset that the writer of The Diary of Anne Frank was gentile,” Scorsese said. “I heard that there were people who complained about Schindler, that he used the inmates to make money off them. I said, ‘Wait a minute.’ I could… well, not defend him, but argue who he was. I think he was an amazing man, but I didn’t know if I was equipped for it at that time. I didn’t have the knowledge. I remember Steve Spielberg, over the years, mentioning it to me all the time. He held up the book when we on a plane going to Cannes, and he said, ‘This is my dark movie and I’m going to make it.’”

“I used the phrase at the time, “I’m not Jewish.” What I meant was, it’s the old story that the journey had to be taken by a Jewish person through that world, and I think Steven also learned that. He came from… [pauses] where is The Fablelmans set, Phoenix? He told me there were only 200 Jews in Phoenix. I couldn’t believe it. Because I come from the Lower East Side, and grew up with the Jewish community. I wasn’t being altruistic, but it just made sense to me that he was the person who really should go through this. I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to do justice to the situation.”

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