Orson Scott Card is a celebrated science fiction author. He is also notoriously anti-gay and now a film adaptation of one of his most famous works is facing a boycott from gay geeks, sparking a wider debate about whether a boycott is truly desirable.
The film is based on Card’s highly praised Ender’s Game, a tale about Earth’s best and brightest children and their last stand against the “Buggers,” an insect-like alien species who — shock! — want to invade and claim the planet.
The book was released in 1985 to a generally positive reception and is regularly cited as a classic. Though Card had once claimed that Ender’s Game could not be made into a film, an adaptation has now been shot and is due for release to American audiences on November 1, 2013. Note that Card also co-produced the film.
While many a geek has “fangasmed,” as the geek parlance goes, at the prospect of an Ender’s Game film, gay geeks have been less enthused. The problem is, and it is a considerable problem, that author Orson Scott Card has also carved out a niche as an anti-gay polemicist.
For this reason, gay geek community GeeksOut — stylized as a rallying force for the queer geek community — has called for a boycott under the banner “Skip Ender’s Game.”
The original post dating back to April 2012 from where blossomed this initiative is quite detailed as to reasons why the film may be worth boycotting, but the Skip Ender’s Game statement of intent is quite punchy and comprehensive:
Do not buy a ticket at the theater, do not purchase the DVD, do not watch it on-demand. Ignore all merchandise and toys. However much you may have admired his books, keep your money out of Orson Scott Card’s pockets. By pledging to skip Ender’s Game, we can send a clear and serious message to Card and those that do business with his brand of anti-gay activism – whatever he’s selling, we’re not buying. The queer geek community will not subsidize his fearmongering and religious bullying. We will not pay him to demean, insult and oppress us.
We might be tempted to dismiss this call as nothing more than hot air, except this isn’t the first time geeks — of orientation homo and hetero — have objected to Card’s creative involvement in a project.
Regular readers may remember from earlier this year the separate call for a boycott and subsequent shelving of a Superman comic book that was to be penned by Orson Scott Card. Clearly, the anger felt over Card’s anti-gay views has both bite and traction.
Now Card, facing the prospect of boycott, has issued what amounts to a plea of tolerance of his views, saying:
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 recognised 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.
Backers of the film Lionsgate, meanwhile, has hurried to wave the rainbow flag, saying that this film has nothing to do with Card’s anti-gay views while at the same time assuring everyone that the company is very, very committed to equality:
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.
This might have satisfied some, but not GeeksOut and not very many in the gay community. It’s easy to see why and it behooves us to issue a few facts and corrections here. Scott Card hasn’t ever simply “disagreed” with proponents of marriage equality. That suggests some kind of politeness, much like the restraint he pleads for in the above statement.
No, Card has historically used his considerably elevated position to vociferously advocate against homosexuality.
From his essay The Hypocrites of Homosexuality that appeared in Sunstone magazine in February of 1990:
Laws against homosexual behavior should remain on the books, not to be indiscriminately enforced against anyone who happens to be caught violating them, but to be used when necessary to send a clear message that those who flagrantly violate society’s regulation of sexual behavior cannot be permitted to remain as acceptable, equal citizens within that society.
Card later stressed that he meant not to advocate for the jailing of homosexuals itself but rather the maintaining of state sodomy bans as a deterrent. Regardless we can, without having to infer anything, adjudicate that Orson Scott Card’s views are quite chilling enough given the remark that gay people “cannot be permitted to remain as acceptable, equal citizens.”
Society has moved on from that time and many a homophobe has recanted. Has Card? No, he most certainly has not.
Card, in 2009, instead moved in to a position as a member of the board of directors of the National Organization for Marriage, a self-described “traditional marriage” group that has worked, and in many places has succeeded, to denigrate gay couples and ensure that states — and even countries — resist progress and enact same-sex marriage bans.
Most recently, alongside authoring a despicably bad anti-gay Hamlet rehash, Card backed North Carolina’s disgustingly overreaching constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, civil unions and domestic partnership rights.
He wrote in support of that amendment an op-ed on how gay marriage is a ploy of the Left, saying with a glaring use of fiction and not science the following:
If there were even a shred of science behind the absurd claims about gender and sexuality coming from the left, there might be a case for allowing this to happen. But there is no science behind it.
In fact, the scientific evidence we have points in the opposite direction: Same-sex attraction is not a strait jacket; people’s desires change over time; gay people still have choices; a reproductive dysfunction like same-sex attraction is not a death sentence for your DNA or for your desire to have a family in which children grow up with male and female parents to model appropriate gender roles.
Now, this isn’t just being against gay marriage. This is spouting ex-gay nonsense that has been evidenced to harm children.
We can say incontrovertibly then that Card has demonstrably used his status and, at the very least via his Mormon tithing, his money to advocate against gay rights and even appears to have at least tacitly supported some form of ex-gay therapy.
So, we must say that if the book Ender’s Game gave Card the means to improve the reach and weight of his opinion, and then he used his baseless anti-gay views to attack, defame and actively persecute same-sex couples, all of which cannot be disputed and none of which he has ever renounced, a discussion of Ender’s Game as an enabling factor in his rise to anti-gay prominence is entirely reasonable.
A boycott, too, is therefore not on the face of it beyond the bounds of what might be appropriate action for those who find Card’s views land on the spectrum of disagreeable to appalling — and it’s worth interjecting that no one is quibbling over Orson Scott Card’s right to hold these views, but that doesn’t mean he gets to speak into a vacuum of no consequence.
However, the always measured Dustin Lance Black, screenwriter most famous for his biopic on Harvey Milk, has reportedly delivered his opinion against the boycott:
There’s so much good to be done right now. Boycotting a movie made by 99% LGBT equality folks in an LGBT equality industry is a waste of our collective energy. Making one phone call to a relative in the south who isn’t quite there yet would be 1,000 times more effective.
He later went on to incorrectly state “The homophobic novelist who wrote the book hasn’t been involved in decades. Misguided boycott.”
We know that latter point to be false and that Card has as recently as 2012 attempted to use his position for anti-gay politics, but that his prominence and influence in the movement has waned does appear to be true.
That aside, Black manages to lay out a very powerful reason against the boycott: that of outreach.
We know that when the gay community opens its arms and attempts to educate through positive narratives like “we are all someone’s child” and that “equal love deserves equal rights,” the community wins. The massive gains in gay rights, while multifaceted in cause, attest to this.
When the community closes ranks and shuns something, it is less successful.
We groan to remember the Chick-fil-A debacle that (wrongly) became a free speech debate and hastened thousands of conservatives like Sarah Palin toward a future of heart disease as they consumed fried chicken by the bucketful just to demonstrate their support for Chick-fil-A’s “traditional family,” the Cathy clan whose donations to anti-gay causes amount to millions.
A rash dismissal of either point, the righteous anger over Card’s past or the potential for a backlash if a boycott were to go ahead (though, we note, no real backlash has yet organized itself), seems foolhardy.
What might be most fascinating in this case, though, isn’t talk surrounding the merits of the boycott itself, but that Lionsgate has been so worried by the threat and, moreover, of appearing to be in bed with Orson Scott Card that it needed to try damage control. Also, that the boycott really does appear to be gaining ground.
This in and of itself demonstrates the sea-change on gay rights and the reality that being anti-gay is now very firmly socially unacceptable, an idea that if floated a few years ago would firmly have belonged on the fiction shelf.
Image credit: Lionsgate; image used under fair use terms.