The discussion about Ender’s Game has reached a head in the last several days, with new statements from Orson Scott Card, Lionsgate and now with the film appearing at Comic-con, so I thought I’d give my two cents worth. For those of you who don’t know, Ender’s Game is a science fiction book from 1985 written by Card, which has a movie adaptation of it coming out on November 1st. I remember reading the book repeatedly in middle school; at the time it was one of my favorites, though I never read any of its sequels. It wasn’t until later that I learned the truth about Orson Scott Card.
You see, Card is the worst sort of homophobe. Not content merely to privately have an anti-gay point of view, he has made a habit of using his fame to espouse his views and to push his anti-gay agenda. This is not new information, but it has returned to the spotlight with the upcoming release of the movie. You would think that an author with a major Hollywood adaptation of his book coming out would tone down the rhetoric in order to help sell tickets. It makes sense to try to avoid alienating your audience before the movie is even released. But here’s what he had to say to Entertainment Weekly about the recent Supreme Court ruling:
With the recent Supreme Court ruling, the gay marriage issue becomes moot. The Full Faith and Credit clause of the Constitution will, sooner or later, give legal force in every state to any marriage contract recognized by any other state.
Now it will be interesting to see whether the victorious proponents of gay marriage will show tolerance toward those who disagreed with them when the issue was still in dispute.
I could rant about how infuriating it is to hear someone who has spent their life spouting out hatefully intolerant things now asking us to tolerate his intolerance, but I won’t. What I’m more interested in discussing is whether or not I will feel comfortable seeing a film based on this man’s work. It’s very easy to argue for a boycott or that his art is separate from his opinions. In fact, both of these arguments have been made in various corners of the Internet.
The boycott argument makes a lot of sense. Card’s views are repellant to me, and anyone who agrees with me on this probably doesn’t want any of their money going into his pockets. It would be reasonable to assume that a portion of the money he makes he contributes to anti-gay causes (though I have no way to prove it), and therefore it’s easy to imagine your dollars spent on the movie going directly to those groups (think Chick-fil-a). This is simply unacceptable.
However, the argument that art should be separate from the artist is also a valid point. There are plenty of actors/singers/writers who have said or done horrible things who still make undeniably great art. I can’t imagine anyone who likes Chris Brown as a person, but his music is still popular. I despise most of Mel Gibson’s personal life, but I still love his movies. There has to be the ability in life to separate a work of art from the creator of that art, in order to have some level of objectivity. (Here’s a great blog about this point of view, which also discusses the negative impact that a boycott might have on science fiction as a film genre.)
I suppose what I’m getting at is that I feel that we as adults have to acknowledge that “bad” people are capable of doing and creating “good” things, just as “good” people are capable of doing and creating “bad” things. This is an important thing to remember, as it keeps us from ever completely writing off or ignoring those we disagree with. It also allows us to experience art free from the context of its creation. (This, of course, does not forgive “art” that is written to support a particular objectionable position, which Ender’s Game was not.) And if it helps at all, you can remind yourself that Card has already been paid for the film rights to the book, whether you buy a ticket or not, so your money will most likely go to supporting the filmmakers and not the author.
It’s also true that it’s much easier to separate a film adaptation of a book from the author of that book, as opposed to separating the singer of a song from the song he’s singing. There’s usually a buffer between book and film, as the story passes through several sets of hands before it’s presented on screen. Lionsgate, who are producing the film, have done the right thing in attempting to distance themselves from Card’s views, going so far as to have a LGBT benefit premiere of the movie. And just in case you think it’s merely the studio trying to cover its ass, it’s also clear that the cast wants nothing to do with Card’s opinions, as Harrison Ford recently stated at Comic-con, “I am aware of his statements admitting that the question of gay marriage is a battle he lost. He admits that he lost. I think we all know that we’ve all won. That humanity has won. And that’s the end of the story.” Given the fact that the book in no way reflects Card’s views on homosexuality, and the fact that the filmmakers and cast do not support his views, I feel like it’s unfair to punish them simply for choosing to adapt what is truly a wonderful book.
However, we can’t simply ignore the fact that something we like was written by someone whose views we disagree with. It’s all too easy to say “it’s just a book” or “it’s just a song” and write off the art’s creator as unimportant. And while a boycott would certainly call attention to his views, it would also hurt the good people behind the film and would deny the worth of the story. I think a far more useful solution is the sort of dialogue that seems to be springing up everywhere around this film. A boycott or a dismissal of the artist are two ends that ignore the means in between. And while I wouldn’t begrudge anyone for either boycotting the film or seeing it in the theater, I think doing either without any sort of discussion as to why simply misses the point.
So I’m going to see the movie, because I love the story and I think the film looks like it has the potential to be a fantastic adaptation of that story. But I fully support those who want to boycott. It’s important not to assume that those who go to see the film are doing so in support of Card. But regardless of whether you see it or you boycott, the most important thing you can do is talk to people about why. Do it in a blog, do it on Facebook or Twitter or Tumblr, do it around the watercooler at work or at Sunday School or in the locker room or between classes. It’s important to acknowledge the sorts of opinions that are out there in order to fight them, just as it’s important not to let the views of one man affect your life.
And if you want a compromise, you can follow the suggestion of EW’s Mark Harris (who calls Card “an off-the-spectrum hatemonger cloaking himself as a voice of principled opposition, and he richly deserves to be shunned”) and write a check for the cost of the movie ticket to an organization that opposes his views. You should definitely go read his article. It’s a clever solution designed to assuage any possible guilty feelings. But it’s all for nothing if we don’t talk about it.
What do you think? Are you going to see Ender’s Game or do Card’s views make you prefer to boycott? Are we ever able to completely separate art from artist, and even if we can, should we? Are bad people capable of creating good things? Let me know in the comments!