I spent a couple hours of my Labor Day weekend doing something that would displease many of my friends. I (gasp) watched Ender’s Game.
There was a good amount of hot debate, even some foaming at the mouth, unfriending or threats thereof, on social media in the months leading up to the movie’s release, continuing when it came out in the theaters. The controversy had nothing to do with the book the movie was based on, the people who made the film or its subject matter. It had everything to do with the author, Orson Scott Card, who actually stood to make no money from the film’s box office revenue. He had been paid up front for the rights some years previously. The studio even distanced itself from Card, dropping him from any promotion of the film.
I kept relatively quiet as I watched the frenzied arguments on my friends’ Facebook walls and other social and news media. Though I am not much of an activist, L.G.B.T. issues are important to me and I don’t keep silent when it comes to bigotry. I have long considered myself to be queer, bisexual and many of my friends hit some aspect of the queer spectrum. In somewhat a move of solidarity, I decided not to see the film in theaters. What I kept to myself was my opinion that the boycott of the film, not of Card, was frankly, stupid. I still think so. Stupid is a harsh term. Perhaps I should have used short-sighted, ineffective, misguided or misplaced.
Anyway, if you can get past the offense, here’s some of my reasoning behind this judgement and my thoughts about Card and the film:
I didn’t see the boycott hurting Card one little bit. And, it didn’t. His book sales continue to climb.
While I think it was excellent to expose Card’s hate speech and misguided politics and educate the ignorant, boycotting the film achieved little of this. Boycotts may be effective against corporations who are worried about their reputations, and they may raise awareness of issues but they generally don’t seem have an impact on American consumers. When we want something bad enough, we buy it. The boycott, despite claims to the contrary, may not have affected the box office sales at all. We’ll never know unless we can poll every single person who chose not to see it, asking them why. However, I do think that a combination of the boycott, mixed reviews and disappointed consumers thinking they were going to get a major action film or something more like The Hunger Games thanks to misleading marketing, probably kept the film from being successful in America.
So when is the artist inseparable from their art? It’s a dilemma if you have a conscience. When is boycotting the work of a human being we find offensive, appropriate and when is it simply throwing the baby out with the bathwater? In my opinion there’s a big difference between an artist like Card, who is a product of his generation and of his religion (The Mormon Church), someone who’s homophobic rants I find offensive, but not surprising and someone like Woody Allen, who I believe is a pedophile who will never be held accountable for the crimes he committed against Dylan Farrow, an incest survivor whose account I find highly credible. People find all kinds of reasons to justify padding the bank account of this abusive predator (who also appears to be racist by the way), yet essentially they want to punish Card for expressing his, albeit offensive, first amendment right in an arena that has nothing to do with the book he wrote about 20 years ago. So how do you pick and choose? What limits do you set? I choose to not see Allen’s films anymore because I can’t separate my distaste for the artist from the art, but if I did, I would not pay to see a first run film or anything he might profit from and I think that’s a good rule of thumb when it comes to Card as well.
Not only did this boycott not hurt Card or change his homophobic rhetoric, though he did insincerely squirm around and try to soften things a bit, it probably launched book sales by curious readers. And this is where a bigger impact could have been made, by not feeding Card directly through new purchases of his material! Ender’s Game doesn’t promote any homophobic attitudes. Ironically, it’s largely about tolerance and understanding. In the past, Card has gone to great lengths to keep his politics out of his work, not that that negates the real pain and conflict experienced by readers who have since discovered who Card really is at heart. Card has more recently written some clumsy and inflammatory work, such as 2008’s, Hamlet’s Father. It wouldn’t surprise me if this writing was spurred on by criticism. Often the work artists are most emotional about is their worst.
The failure of Ender’s Game at the box office could have hurt the careers of really interesting talent, Asa Butterfield, for example. I hope not. It also makes it less likely that more interesting, original or thoughtful science fiction will be produced in the future. I am a firm believer in, let’s not just bitch about how Hollywood won’t step outside of the formula or gives too many strong or leading roles to white men that could go to women and people of color or how Hollywood perpetuates stereotypes, bigotry and rape culture. let’s vote with our wallets! That’s why I spent money on Lucy, and I’m glad I did, despite some of the whiny criticisms. In fact I find it interesting that critics panned Lucy and Maleficent, actually two really good films with strong, independent, well developed female characters. If we don’t continue to pay to see movies like that, more and better ones will never be made.
Same goes for Ender’s Game. Not going didn’t prevent a “homophobic film”, which it wasn’t, from succeeding. It was ultimately a vote against sci-fi stories that were out of the Hollywood norm being told! In fact, you may have read the poorly written or B.D.S.M. inaccurate book or be pining to see the upcoming film of Fifty Shades of Grey (or the soapy & sappy Twilight series it spawned from) thus supporting with your wallet a story that normalizes abuse behavior and the throwback mentality of a woman’s worth stemming completely from her man. And I bet you’ll make all kinds of excuses to justify spending your money on that twaddle and skip movies that might be a step in the right direction. For a much better, actually brilliant film about S&M, I refer you to Secretary, the 2002 picture with James Spader (his character is, curiously, Mr Grey) and Maggie Gyllenhaal.
While Ender’s Game doesn’t have a female character or non-white character as a centerpiece, many of the supporting characters are not white males. In fact, specifically, some of the less likable characters were white males. There were not only some interesting female characters, but the three that were highlighted were crucial to Ender’s success in the film; Viola Davis as Major Anderson, a male character in the book, recast as a woman of color (whoot), Abigail Breslin as Valentine, Ender’s sister, who helps bring out his empathy and conscience, and Hailee Steinfield, Petra, his fellow cadet is clearly an equal and in some cases a more important part of the team (she is the best sharpshooter). There are no signs that she is dismissed or picked on because of her gender by other cadets and she isn’t reduced to a romantic interest.
So, what’s the takeaway for Hollywood here? Let’s just make another Transformers film, shall we? It doesn’t have to be good storytelling to guarantee success. We don’t have to be socially responsible. We can even do a little padding of rape culture in the process. People will just gloss it over because, yaay Transformers.
Ender’s Game failed at the American box office. Even if ultimately it makes a buttload of money in overseas markets and in DVD/Blue Ray sales, we will likely not see a sequel. An example, despite doing poorly here, The Golden Compass was very successful world wide however, we will probably not see the rest of the trilogy ironically because of the Catholic Church’s campaign against the film. The Ender series which, I think would have been interesting if produced is probably toast.
Orson Scott Card seems to be one of those intractable bigots who can’t move past their tiny and archaic world view, usually a world view that makes people like them the most important. Certainly, he is a fine candidate for a blast from the point-of-view gun! To find compassion for Card, I try to picture him as that difficult relative clinging to ignorance, maybe even a parent or grandparent, raised in a more conservative, closed minded time, whose religious or political views differ vastly from our own. We’d find him embarrassing at social events, do our best not to engage in fruitless arguments and try to be tolerant. All the while we’d be kind of horrified at the things that come out of his mouth (crazy old coot) and he’d probably feel the same about our wacky (flaming liberal) ideas. Screaming at him will do little to change his opinion. In fact it will act like cement. Slowly easing him into experiences that might make him rethink things may help. Definitely, firmly telling him you disagree and why is important. But fanning the flames never put out a fire.
Sometimes no matter what you do or say people won’t change. They’ll just dig in their heels. Luckily, most of us are not likely to have to put up with Mr Card at our table come the holidays. However, we can send him the message by refuting his comments publicly, in blogs, letting friends know, letting people who want to hire him know why they shouldn’t, and of course, by refusing to do things that directly line his pockets like buying new copies of his books or taking his writing workshops!
I have some friends who have some attributes that annoy me, turn ons that leave me cold or have some views that completely clash with my personal beliefs. Here are a few things that butt up against my nerves:
- Conservative attitudes
- Judgmental Christians and Condescending Atheists
- Those who follow religious or political leaders blindly
- Right Wing Republicans
- Anti-Choice folks who say they are Pro-Life
- Homophobic, Transphobic, Racists or any kind of bigot
- Those who think Sarah Palin would make a great President and who think Obama is ruining our country or insist that he is a Muslim Socialist. *heavy sigh*
- Those who refuse to recognize their privilege and paint themselves as the victim or get all defensive about it.
- Those that don’t understand Rape Culture
- Friends who are obsessed with or don’t ever seem to shut up about any one topic, even if I am interested in it I like a change of topic; pot, fan fiction, zombies, Twilight, Burning Man, The Grateful Dead, karaoke, trigger warnings, FetLife, Kombucha, the person they are smitten with, etc.
- Refuse to watch or read anything that might disturb them no matter the value in it
- Those that think shows like, Toddlers in Tiaras and Real Housewives are quality television
- Those that think Ayn Rand is a great author.
I am friends with these people because I see other things of value in them that outweigh the things that annoy or offend.Sometimes I need to point out that the words they think are innocuous are harmful. I do my best to gently explain my point of view and to understand theirs. Often we just have to agree to disagree. I recognize that they are good people and their views are the sum of indoctrination, age, religion and experience. Often, the emotional argument really boils down to either, “I don’t understand” or “I’m really uncomfortable with this, therefore I don’t want you to do it.” It mostly boils down to, “It’s all about ME.”
Unlike an acquaintance of mine who once horrified me by insisting that, there’s “no valid reason” for someone to have surgery to change their gender. If they feel like a woman, “why can’t they just wear a dress?” Card’s rhetoric is potentially more dangerous because he has an audience. He gives interviews, talks, he publishes essays. On one hand, much of that audience already agrees with him, however, the times they are a changin’ and more and more people are likely to call him on his foolishness.
It may seem that I am making excuses for Card or even defending him. Oh, no I am not! Still, I refuse to believe, with a few obvious exceptions, that some people are disposable and irredeemable. I find Card’s beliefs and statements about homosexuality and same sex marriage repulsive and ignorant. In contrast I find his opinions about cutting back the use of fossil fuels quite sensible. I’ve learned when I take context into consideration my thoughts are less clouded by anger and I can think more constructively. When I read his rants about same sex marriage I also consider at his demographic: He grew up during the 40’s and 50’s in mostly white affluent communities, lives in the heavily Christian south and is a devout Mormon. Given this, I think his mind set is pretty typical. Clearly, this doesn’t make his ideas any less odious, it just helps in understanding where they came from.
I give the greatest amount of weight to his programming, yes I said programming, by the Mormon Church. A great many Mormons, and also members of any cults or religions that suppress free or critical thought, are mouthpieces for their church propaganda. The Mormon Church is one of the biggest proponents against same-sex marriage, period. Why should we expect Card to be different? Now, what’s the best way to change his mind? Certainly not a boycott that won’t hurt his wallet. In contrast, Paula Deen got called out for her racist language and her real profits were targeted. She may not have learned to not be racist. She’s probably still in the feeling sorry for herself stage, but ultimately, a real message was sent.
I do find it interesting that for the most part, Card’s writing does not reflect his ugly politico-religious sentiments. He does have religious overtones in places. Much of this was dampened in the film. I’ll admit, this observation is not based on personal experience, but on things I have read about his writing and comments by friends who have read his books.
Ironically, it appears I really haven’t read any of Orson Scott Card’s material. As someone who has read books from most established writers in the science fiction genre, this seems crazy, but I double checked his bibliography and my experience with Card is only in the short story category. Ender’s Game is on almost every “must read, most important, ground breaking” science fiction list. The Ender series has always been on my, “someday I’ll read this,” list but I have so many things on that list I will never get to all of them. Maybe I will never read it.
On one of my more ancient blog incarnations, my chinchillas, Gazpacho & Pele, were my movie reviewers by proxy. They reminded me of the Muppet critics, Statler and Waldorf, as they would sit up on the perch together and make critical sounds at the telly. They would rate things in raisins if they liked them and chinchilla poops if they disliked a film. They would have given Ender’s Game 6 ½ Raisins, maybe 7 as a nod that it was interesting and at the very least it worth gnawing on.
It’s said to be a fairly faithful adaptation of the novel. It has a wonderful cast: Asa Butterfield, Harrison Ford, Viola Davis, Ben Kingsley, Abigail Breslin, and the incredibly cool Nonso Anozie! The recent Dracula series (cancelled after one season, grumble, grumble.) could be enjoyed merely for Anozie’s wonderful take on Renfield! Recently, another movie, which also had an epic cast as well as a writer/director who has been consistently brilliant, Noah, wasted a couple of hours of my time; the exception being the few scenes with Sir Anthony Hopkins as Methuselah. I did not find Ender’s Game a waste of my time. On the contrary, I won’t be surprised if I decide to watch it more than once. Overall, I really liked the film, but I see why it might not have been that exciting to some audiences and what its failures are. None of them have anything to do with Card’s “politics.”
I think Ender’s Game was a film for adults in which the cast is mostly kids. This is not how it was marketed. I doubt it played well to tween audiences and it seems obvious that’s what the target was. Clearly Lions Gate was hoping for another Harry Potter or Hunger Games Franchise. It didn’t have a sense of humor. There wasn’t enough BIG action. Romantic tension was only hinted at. It’s certainly not a sweeping adventure or action blockbuster. None of these things are flaws in my book but it is unusual for these attributes to translate to big box office. In Ender’s Game, most of the action is of the computer game variety. Even the training games in the film aren’t terribly violent. It’s all strategy. I thought that was refreshing. But I am not the audience the motion picture industry aims for, young males between the ages of 12-25.
Gavin Hood lives up to his track record of being an earnest writer and director, if not the most consistent or the one who always makes the most interesting or edgy choices. There were a few scenes, one of my pet peeves, that were unnecessarily too ‘splainy. I also think it rushed over some of the military training stuff in a hurry to cut running time and get to the big climax. They really went through all of Ender’s promotions too quickly and if it wasn’t for Asa Butterfield’s excellent acting I don’t think the processes and changes in the character would have come across as successfully as they did. The big climax wasn’t what one expects of a film like this either. The very end was rather abruptly and neatly wrapped.
One review I read of the film said something along the lines of Ender’s Game being successful when you left the theater and falling apart on the ride home. I can see that criticism, but I think Ender’s Game holds up better than that. There is a lot of post film thinking for me, about how it could have been better (and I must say, I would have thoroughly enjoyed it if they had taken a shot at Card by sneaking in an openly gay character and not having it matter or a shot of Colonol Graff’s desk with picture of his husband sitting on it, chuckle.) however, I also found my thoughts successfully provoked about war in general, use of children in in battle (topical), combat becoming more like a video game while less and less up close and personal, cultural preservation and obliteration, and also about strategy and empathy, even bullying. I found the character of Ender Wiggin fascinating and overall it made me kind of hopeful there would be more of his story.
In part, thanks to the boycott people, I’ll probably have to read the books for that.
*I promise however, that if I do read anything by Orson Scott Card, I will either buy it at a used bookstore or at a yard sale or I will get it free from a friend or a book swap. He won’t get a dime from me.