I must have been the only person in my middle school peer group who never read Ender’s Game. In the mid 1990s, that book was ubiquitous in backpacks and lockers all over the country. All my friends loved it, and some of them tell me they’re really excited about the movie version of it that is finally coming out this fall. But, they say, they're also dreading it.
That’s because the book’s author, Orson Scott Card has made a habit in recent years of speaking out against about homosexuality and gay marriage. Salon has a thorough accounting of Cards’ worst comments over the years, but the lowlights include things like claiming that most gay people were made that way “through a disturbing seduction or rape or molestation or abuse” and calling for the overthrow of any government that would permit gay marriage. (“Marriage has only one definition, and any government that attempts to change it is my mortal enemy. I will act to destroy that government and bring it down.”)
As a result, gay rights supporters have begun to organize boycotts around the Ender’s Game movie. That poses a serious problem not only for Card, but also the film's distributors, Lionsgate and Summit, who spent more than $100 million on the project. In response to the boycotts, Card released another infurating statement to Entertainment Weekly, saying that he hoped the “victorious proponents of gay marriage will show tolerance toward those who disagree with them.” Right. “Tolerance.”
Card’s comments have restarted an old debate over the appropriate response to artists with objectionable views. Can we ever separate the artist from the art? And even if we can, should we?
Personally, I’m inclined not to support writers or directors whose views disagree with my own, but I also recognize that’s a slippery slope to go down. Once you start boycotting people for their beliefs, where do you draw the line? How many great artists throughout history denigrated other races or religions or sexual orientations? How many abused their spouses? How many were terrible parents? This article from The International Herald Tribune provides the answer: “a lot.” Oscar Wilde said that “it is through art, and through art only, that we can realize our perfection.” The artists themselves? They're generally pretty imperfect (admittedly, some are less perfect than others).
Again, I’ve never read Ender’s Game and don't have strong feelings about it, but I can relate to someone who does. If it had come to light, for example, that Stan Lee despised all people on earth with the name “Matthew” on the eve of the release of the first X-Men movie, I don’t know what I would have done. I wouldn’t have wanted to support the work of an anti-Matthew bigot, but I’d also waited my whole life to watch that X-Men movie—a movie which its hypothetically bigoted co-creator had very little to do with, and which actually promoted the idea of tolerance by valorizing the actions of superheroes who work to create a society where mutants and humans can peacefully coexist. Sometimes art can inspire good in spite of the artist's intentions.
That’s essentially the message that’s being spread by the creators of the film at Comic-Con this week; who’ve tried to distance themselves and their Ender’s Game from the man who originally created it. At their panel in San Diego yesterday, producer Roberto Orci had this to say about the controversy:
“A lot of people worked on this movie, and a lot more people are working to get this movie out and to market it. I would hate to see the efforts of all these people thwarted by the opinions of less than a percentage of people behind this movie, particularly because the message of the book and the movie is tolerance, compassion, empathy. So rather than shying away from the controversy, we’re happy to actually embrace it and use the spotlight—no matter how we got here—to say we support LGBT rights and human rights.”
I believe the filmmakers have their hearts in the right place. But that doesn’t necessarily negate the fact that Card doesn’t, and even if they use their adaptation of his work to advance a cause he really depises he still stands to profit from that adaptation if it’s a hit.
If you’re still unsure what to do, you might want to consider the solution suggested today by Mark Harris at Entertainment Weekly. Harris says he won’t pay to see the movie, but also doesn’t believe that someone who does is automatically an enemy of gay rights. His solution: if you decide to go, “write a check for the cost of a movie ticket to an organization that opposes Card’s views, and then go enjoy the film with a clear conscience.”
That strikes me as a smart compromise. A boycott keeps money out of the hands of Card. A donation puts money in the hands of people who could use it to do some good.