Ender’s Game: Are You Going to Battle School?
One of the major themes of Ender’s Game is that the sins of the father are visited upon the children. How fitting then that the homophobia of the book’s author Orson Scott Card should hurt the release of his first major movie.
I first read Ender’s Game many years ago when I was a teenager, gobbling up science fiction by the crateful.
It’s a brilliant story of a genius child among other brilliant children who are being bred to command an interstellar army and repel an alien invasion. Though at at the heart of the book is strategy and tactics, there’s a fair amount about the guilt of wiping out an enemy, the pressure of being given a task that adults can’t perform and how to live with yourself when you’re better at things than others around you. After it was published gifted children wrote the author praising the accuracy of his voice, especially the frustration of being intelligent but denied rights due to their age.
I began reading the new sequels last month when the English department was looking for a viable companion to the upcoming movie that wasn’t the original book. I don’t often teach that course but I can’t pass up the opportunity to geek out. Even before the Skip Ender’s Game movement came to the public’s attention I did some searching and found the author’s pretty bonkers statements on gay marriage, encapsulated unequivocally in an essay called “The Hypocrites of Homosexuality.” Some fans have attempted to rationalize these opinions as his way of moving up the Mormon hierarchy, but I don’t buy it.
Before the movie became a battleground, I was resigned to liking the books but disliking the creator. But I’m very torn about the Skip Ender’s Game movement.
With the Ender’s Game movie being released in theatres today, queer-positive geeks have to decide if we want to vote with our dollars. In the Card’s outer space (the book was written in 1985) queer people don’t appear to exist. This is of course statistically unlikely. I don’t particularly want to give Card my money nor send the message he can flip the debate by claiming it is gay marriage supporters’ obligation to be tolerant of ‘the losing party.’ Fighting for equal marriage rights does not equal hating straight marriage, and statistics show that the majority of North Americans reject that argument.
Orson Card’s myriad attempts to write the screenplay over the years came to nothing, and the film project stalled. It’s worth noting that the story itself is not homophobic; in fact the opposite case can be made and has been — often by queer fans of the book. In the production that finally made it to screens, screenwriter/director Gavin Hood in consultation with Bob Orci made certain substantive changes to the film to remove any trace of Card’s prejudice.
So yeah, to make the decision even more complicated, one needs to differentiate between the novel’s writer Orson Scott Card and the screenwriter/director of the film, Gavin Hood. The books are relatively old as these things go, and both Hood and producer Bob Orci came out unequivocally against the author’s views in an interview with Huffington Post and a later in-depth interview with the Guardian (video). Hood went on record saying:
“Frequently artists create something better and more insightful than their own particular point of view on some issue. We have a great piece of art, and we have the artist behind that art saying things that seem to be extremely bigoted. But they’re not the book. The book is the book and Orson’s views are his views.”
In the video interview with the Guardian, both actor Harrison Ford and Gavin Hood are asked directly about this issue, and they both tackle it head on. Hood’s obviously long reflected-upon statement is this:
“It’s a great question, I’m not gonna sidestep it. It’s well known Orson Card and I have different views on the issue of gay marriage. It’s been a real dilemma for me in the simplest sense: I love Ender’s Game. It’s all about tolerance and compassion, understanding the other — literally — those are the themes of the book.
So for me, when I read the book I was deeply moved by a story aimed at young people, that I could share with my children and access those ideas in a way that was exciting, yet allowed me to talk about tolerance, compassion, diplomacy, pre-emptive warfare, drone warfare, the notion of how games and reality are starting to merge in the modern world … How do I reconcile them with his clearly contrary views to the ones I hold on the specific issue of gay rights?
“Art and their creators often diverge. Art is an expression of our higher selves. And we who make art don’t always measure up to the art we create.”
Attorney Emma Ruby-Sachs agrees, reminiscing on her own identification with the novel as a gay youth. She doesn’t support the boycott:
“the positive influence this movie could have, the importance of Ender’s story, and the chance to use this controversy for the good of every struggling young gay kid stuck in a world that seems intent on destroying him, outweigh any benefit a boycott could bring.”
So, I’m curious: where do you stand? Do you go to Battle School to watch a child save a society that scorns him, and find compassion for those who are made Other? Or are we just giving a bigot more rope?
Here’s Gavin Hood on the intricacies of Ender’s World and Orson Card’s homophobia (interview during ComicCon 2013):