To Boycott or Not to Boycott Ender’s Game?
Learning that your favorite book is going to be made into a movie evokes a whole lot of joy, mitigated by a whole lot of terror. It's a blood-chilling question to ponder: “What if the director strays from my own, highly personal interpretation of the source material?”
Now my cherished Ender’s Game is getting polished for its silver-screen adaptation, and I find myself feeling squeamish about seeing it -- but not for the usual reason.
No, this time, there’s a much more troubling concern: It turns out that Orson Scott Card, the author of my beloved tome and the screenwriter for its upcoming film adaptation, is an outright homophobe.
“Those who flagrantly violate society's regulation of sexual behavior cannot be permitted to remain as acceptable, equal citizens within that society,” he has said.
And he seems to like his bigotry with a chaser of sedition: “If America becomes a place where our children are taken from us by law and forced to attend schools where they are taught that cohabitation is as good as marriage, that motherhood doesn't require a husband or father, and that homosexuality is as valid a choice as heterosexuality for their future lives, then why in the world should married people continue to accept the authority of such a government?”
Now a number of people plan to boycott the movie: 1) They don’t want anything to do with anything created by someone so hateful, and 2) they don’t want to subsidize his anti-gay marriage stance through their ticket purchase.
The sublimely named group Geeks Out is a nonprofit aimed at carving out safe spaces for people in the LGBT community in geek culture, and they’re one of the major proponents of the boycott, largely for reason number two. Says one of the group’s representatives: “Hopefully, it will send a message that people who are actively vocal against the LGBT community don’t really have a place within the greater geek culture.”
What to do about the bigot behind the blockbuster?
Honestly, I’m torn.
Part of me wants to divorce the hateful author from the art he’s created.
Weirdly enough, Ender’s Game is the perfect antidote to homophobia: It’s a story about a boy who comes to understand and love his enemy that, as it turns out, was misunderstood all along.
Ender’s Game was originally a short story written by Card in 1977, and later was turned into a fully realized novel for young adults in 1985. The story centers on Ender, a bullied, tortured, and brilliant wunderkind who is recruited by Earth’s military to train as a cadet in a space station. At the academy, he trains in a competitive combat simulator -- basically lasertag in zero gravity -- all the while undergoing brutal psychological treatment at the hands of both the adults trying to mold him into a military leader and nefarious bullies among his fellow cadets.
Part of the reason the Ender’s Game has become so popular is that its “young adult” branding is a huge misnomer. The book’s complex moral and thematic complexities have resonated with people of all ages -- I read it a year ago, and was floored by it. It may scan like silly sci-fi action fare, but it asks big questions about right and wrong, violence and compassion, power and free will, what it means to be human, and the sanity of war.
An unrecognized dimension to Ender’s Game that I love is its portrayal of bullying. Even today, bullying routinely gets painted as an innocuous fact of life or rite of passage. Ender’s Game eschews that, and shows bullying as it truly is: a pattern of controlling behavior that is equally humiliating and painful.
Gavin Hood, the movie’s director, recognizes the humanity in the art, despite the author’s views. “The book is about tolerance and understanding differences,” said Hood in a recent Huffington Post interview. “It turns out that the book itself is the biggest advocate of [gay rights].”
Also, if the goal is to keep money out of Orson Scott Card’s coffers, the boycott may be moot. Something tells me he’s already made a good-sized chunk of change from this enterprise. And while it might still soothe my own soul to know that I haven’t given him tacit support by buying a ticket, it’s flawed logic. After all, I haven’t boycotted Jerry Bruckheimer movies even though the man finances the political campaigns of some truly egregious Republicans. Nor do I boycott Tom Cruise movies in spite of his connections with the toxic church of Scientology.
So here’s my advice:
Go see Ender’s Game when it comes out in November.
Then donate money to the Human Rights Campaign, the Point Foundation, or another group doing good for the LGBTQ community, and fight homophobes and other bullies wherever they are.
Erik Lorenzsonn is an editorial intern with The Progressive, an online producer with Wisconsin Public Radio, and a freelance journalist who lives in his hometown of Madison, Wisconsin. He is the creator and host of Movement, an upcoming podcast that explores social mobilization. Follow him on Twitter @eriklorenzsonn.
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