The Boycott of the Upcoming Ender’s Game Film: Is It Justified?

Posted in: Other Commentary

A controversy recently erupted due to the blatantly homophobic views of the author Orson Scott Card, whose extremely popular book Ender’s Game is being adapted as a film that will be released this November by Lionsgate.  Due to Card’s views, an organization called Geeks OUT is boycotting the film.  (Another recent protest over Card’s views came from comic book artist Christopher Sprouse, who changed his mind about illustrating a comic book that Card had penned due to Card’s homophobic views.)  In this column, I’ll consider the viewpoints of various parties regarding the controversy.

Lionsgate’s Response to the Controversy

The producer of the Ender’s Game movie, Lionsgate, responded to the controversy over Ender’s Game by issuing the following statement:

As proud longtime supporters of the LGBT community, champions of films ranging from GODS AND MONSTERS to THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER and a Company that is proud to have recognized same-sex unions and domestic partnerships within its employee benefits policies for many years, we obviously do not agree with the personal views of Orson Scott Card and those of the National Organization for Marriage.  However, they are completely irrelevant to a discussion of ENDER’S GAME.  The simple fact is that neither the underlying book nor the film itself reflect these views in any way, shape or form.  On the contrary, the film not only transports viewers to an entertaining and action-filled world, but it does so with positive and inspiring characters who ultimately deliver an ennobling and life-affirming message. Lionsgate will continue its longstanding commitment to the LGBT community by exploring new ways we can support LGBT causes and, as part of this ongoing process, will host a [LGBT-causes] benefit premiere for ENDER’S GAME.

-Lionsgate Entertainment.

Lionsgate’s response to the controversy is interesting in two ways.  First, it opens up the possibility that Card himself might not attend the Enders Game benefit; and that if he does, he may learn something from those members of the LGBT community who might—and, I think, ought to—approach him there, to confront him about his views.

Second, Lionsgate’s response implicitly addresses the issue of its having done business with a known homophobe. Here, Lionsgate’s response seems less successful, in that the amount of money that is poured into the GLBT premiere, no matter how lavish it may be, will probably be dwarfed by the massive amount of money that Card likely received for the Ender’s Game book option.  And even if the sums were the same, one could argue that they still don’t cancel either out, for the sum given to Card by Lionsgate remains tainted.

Ender’s Game Author Orson Scott Card’s Response to the Controversy

After the controversy had broken, Card commented to Entertainment Weekly as follows:

“Ender’s Game is set more than a century in the future and has nothing to do with political issues that did not exist when the book was written in 1984.  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.”

Card’s response is unconvincing, for a number of reasons.  First, Card seems to see the entire issue as if it were a war, and not a civil rights struggle.  Here, his reference to “victorious proponents” is telling.

Second, Card asks GLBT proponents to exhibit “tolerance” toward those on the other side, Card’s side.  This request is the rare—indeed, almost unheard of—call for an oppressor group to receive tolerance from those it is oppressing.

Third, Card seems to be quite happy with a situation where GLBT people slowly are accorded rights, state by state and “sooner or later”—rights that they should have had all along, and rights that should be universally granted.  This position evokes the Civil Rights-related saying, “If they say ‘Go slow’ they mean, ‘Don’t go.’”

Fourth and finally, a sad irony arises here from how beautifully Card is able to depict empathy in his work, but how, in his life, he apparently cannot always experience it.  Consider Card’s Ender’s Game  sequel, Speaker for the Dead. There. In the latter book’s world, anyone can summon a Speaker to research a deceased person’s life and speak for that person, describing his or her life as he or she had tried to live it, complete with all its merits, flaws, and misdeeds.  Perhaps if Card himself would witness—or even become—a Speaker for a LGBT person, who orates at that person’s funeral, then Card’s own views about gay people might well change profoundly.

  • noneyo_getit_0011232

    You know, the battle is being won for the LGBT community. I don’t see why we should give up an inch of moral high ground by not using “I” language.

    We cannot change other people’s minds and hearts by force and get them to make their peace with something that is different in a strained fashion. What we can do (and have done) is assert people’s right to be what they are and receive equal treatment by law. When all is said and done that was the most that could happen in racial struggles as well… if people were determined to be racist in their personal/social affairs there is still no changing that. Orson Scott Card may be a little openly sullen with his statements but I don’t see how he is questioning equal treatment by law. What goes on in his head is his business.

    Seriously this is how a movement starts losing support is when it starts being about what other people think privately. The only way you change that is with time and demonstrating tolerance yourself (as well as the fact that we can have gay marriage without the world ending). The homophobes have the right to think differently from those of us who are welcoming of LGBT as long as they don’t impose their own feelings on the rights of others. It is hypocritical for us to not return the favour.

    Tolerance is always a give and take that sometimes/often becomes severely unbalanced by invading the personal space and practical lives of individuals. Specific examples are when it comes to matters of economic opportunity, equal treatment by law and not being harassed. Confronting Orson Scott Card regarding statements that don’t sound supportive enough of gay rights is an example of harassment.

  • Red Snow

    Nicely argued essay, Julie, but you don’t really say if a boycott (or protest or some other social response) would be justified. Card’s stories are violent and unpleasant, but when he was starting out, he was everybody’s darling (in the SF field). But now it’s all coming out. Worse, no one’s reported that Card uses Ursula K. Le Guin’s ansible in Ender’s Game, which is intellectual property theft. The Ansible is a faster-than-light radio system that allows the children, who think they’re merely playing at video games, to connect with real spaceships fighting the “buggers” light years away in real time. He didn’t make up his own name for the ansible; he stole it directly. It’s not a homage, either. The whole novel turns on the use of the ansible–yet Card stole it. This whole adventure is a mess. Card’s a deplorable human being and his letter to EW shows how unrepentant he is. A boycott might or might not be justified, but it’ll happen.

  • MajorAnderson


    while I see your point and understand your reasoning, there is one major flaw to your post: it does not address the question that it poses in the headline. You have proven (somewhat unnecessarily, since that is a given) that Cards views are appaling and that he is probably a sad human being in some respects. You have also in a quite structured (if not in all points convincing) manner managed to take apart the statements of both Card and Lionsgate. However, you fail at coming to a successful conclusion.

    1. That Card’s statement cannot be taken at face value is a given. It is conceded all around that his views and his sad excuse of a statement cannot be accepted by any decent human being. You are probably the 27.895th person to prove that on the internet. It would have been more fruitful to focus on the real dilemma, namely whether or not, as you claim in your headline, boycotting the MOVIE is justified.

    2. The Lionsgate statement, while ultimately of course self-serving, contains elements – visibly and in subtext – that you completely and utterly fail to address.

    a) Lionsgate claims to be a gay-friendly company, granting the same benefits to same sex couples that they grant to different sex ones. How does this statement – if true – affect the matter?

    b) Lionsgate claims that to show their support for gay marriage (NOTE: NOT TO BALANCE OUT THE FACT THAT THEY GAVE MONEY TO CARD, as you seem to think), they are holding a benefit premiere. If statemeant A is correct, however self-serving this may be, it also comes from an honest place of actual concern for the rights of same sex couples.

    c) Said benefit is not a political panel, but an event of goodwill. To have it made into a debate workshop would defy the purpose of raising funds for a good cause. Would you really ask Lionsgate to put up Card on a stage so that gay activists can yell at him for two hours? Really? How about public crucifixion while we are at it? Lionsgate is out for peace, not blood.

    d) Lionsgate is a company, and it functions like one. As a company it 1.) has many people with different views and opinions working together, 2.) caters to very diverse audiences, 3.) ultimately exists to bring in profits for its investors and stockholders. Because of that it can address political issues only in the broadest sense of the term. What it cannot do, due to legal, practical (and I dare say moral) concerns is:
    – do wide background checks on everyone they do business with
    – put principle over profit (they can try to equal the score; they CANNOT throw away a 100 Mio dollar movie for the sake of a political argument that doesn’t have the scale of WW II with millions of naked lives depending on it)
    – be a moral guiding light in society — how would that work with so many people having so many opinions? Are we really now depending on companies instead of people to “do the right thing” and show us how to think? Companies which exist in a profit-oriented market? Really? (If that is what we want, and if profit-oriented companies accept that task, then will they not ultimately shut out the smaller voices to appeal to minorities? Is that really what we want?)

    It is not Lionsgate you should look for to solve this dilemma, and if you do, then at least tell it what it is that you want (and make it a logical argument, instead of an impulsive, emotional one). It is not even Card you can look for to solve the dilemma posed in your headline – because as a sensible woman you will realize that he is not going to make a public confession of being wrong in the next 3 months. It is the individual person that needs to solve the unsolvable problem to the best of their ability and after consideration of all sides and opinions involved.
    Your article fails to 1.) acknowledge this fact and 2.) give people enough of an insight in “all sides and opinions” to make an informed decision.

    And since we are fond of numbering, may I make a few suggestions?
    1. Please do some research before you enter a debate. All the things I just said and more can be found on the net, and the fact that you don’t even acknowledge some major counter-arguments to yours gives the impression of uniformedness.
    2. Please don’t use misleading headlines. Your article does not in the slightest address the question of whether or not a boycott of
    – a movie made by a gay-friendly team
    – based on a book about empathy and embracing the Other
    – which was written in 1984
    – by an author who has since become an anti-gay activist, but has stepped down from his active position in an anti-gay organisation recently
    – who may have been paid already, i.e. the question of wheter or not money out of a ticket goes to Card may just be moot (i.e. a boycott would not lead to keeping money from him, but to punishing Lionsgate)
    is actually justified or not.
    3. Please consider all sides, even if it is to refute them. There is a difference between a rounded argument and a one-sided, partially informed opinion piece. Your article claims to be the former, but is the latter.
    4. Please consider options. If you come to the conclusion that it is totally justified to boycott this movie based on all the research and soul searching and logical thinking that you did, at least recognize that there may be other options. Moviegoers could decide to go (so as to not punish Lionsgate, the young actors, and the dedicated gay-friendly team that worked on the movie), so what could they do to help the cause? How about donations? Or better yet, how about putting time and effort into furthering the gay cause? Or maybe you have even better ideas.

    Thank you for reading. (And I would love to hear what you think.)

  • David Ricardo

    While the points made in this post are and should be well
    taken, I think the argument is on the side of not boycotting the movie and
    leaving Mr. Card as he is. There are a couple of reasons for taking this position.

    First, a boycott of the movie will probably have no impact on Mr. Card’s
    finances. In most case an author is paid a fixed amount for the right to adapt his work into a movie.

    Secondly, thoseof us on the progressive side do not accept it when the conservative community moves against actors who are publically in favor of policies conservatives oppose. Ten years ago many of us were outraged, and justifiably so when the baseball Hall of Fame canceled a celebration of the movie Bull Durham because it disagreed with the movie’s stars’, Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon, position on the war in Iraq. That was wrong of the
    Hall of Fame and if we do not want actions like that taken against people
    we (I) agree with then we should not sanction actions like that taken
    against people we disagree with.

    But the real reason for tolerating Mr. Card and his views is
    that those views are losing and pro-equality views are winning. In fact while many battles for equality of the gay and lesbian community are still to be fought, the ultimate outcome is not in doubt. Equality and decency are
    winning and will win completely in the end. This is not just symbolized by the Supreme Court decision, but by things like the open and supportive attitude towards gay and lesbian student at Georgetown University just documented by the NYT.

    It is important to be a good loser, but it is also important to be a good winner. Because those of us who support equality are winning, and we can and should show the attributes of a good winner, in this case benign indifference to those who are losing. Mr. Card is free to have his views, and we are free to largely ignore him and those views because that is what good and
    gracious winners do. Enjoy his work and leave Mr. Card and his homophobic views alone. He may or may not change, but who cares?

  • Spikeygrrl

    Stick to your guns, Card. The homosexual lifestyle is both physically and psychologically unhealthy. We should pity them and try to alleviate their manifest pain WITHOUT granting full and uncritical acceptance of their sickness as a legitimate “alternate lifestyle.” It is a tragedy that they and their supporters — as well as any of the rest of us who simply have never learned to think things through to their ultimate unintended consequences — will not see the totality of the horrible effects of fully legitimizing homosexuality for another generation or three, at which time it will be very difficult to roll back these “reforms.” Combine homosexual marriage with the already far-advanced breakdown of the African-American family and there will be no recognizable “America” left to regret its mistakes.

    • Geoff Allen

      What, exactly, ARE the ultimate unintended consequences of allowing gay marriage? I mean specifically, WHAT are you afraid will happen? You cannot argue simply that it will ‘breakdown traditional family structures’ – these are constantly being changed, being broken down and reformed. So what exactly are you so certain will happen?