When I returned to reading science fiction as adult I discovered a whole new generation of authors:Greg Bear, David Brin, William Gibson, Octavia E. Butler, and Orson Scott Card. In each case I would read a recommended book and enjoy it so much I’d start seeking out others by them. As a movie critic I would later get excited when their works were adapted to the big screen although, sad to say, “Johnny Mnemonic” and “The Postman” were not classics.
In November the movie version of Ender’s Game will reach the end of a long and torturous path through Hollywood. I am eagerly anticipating it and hoping they get it right, as Card’s novel is truly one of the modern classics of the genre. Of late I have become troubled by a move in some quarters to boycott the film.
The reason has nothing to do with the film or its content. It has to do with Card himself. (Card had nothing to do with the film except to cash the check he received for the movie rights. It is written and directed by Gavin Hood, whose credits include the 2005 “Tsotsi.”) I am opposed to the boycott as it will accomplish nothing and may hurt innocent people who may not even be aware of Card or his views.
For those coming in late, Card — a devout Mormon — is an out-spoken opponent of gay rights. He has not been shy about expressing his views in the strongest (some would say “ugliest”) terms. I completely disagree with him and am glad the tide of history is turning against him (as even he has started to grudgingly acknowledge).
However I am also a student of the Hollywood blacklist and am well aware of an equally ugly history where people could not get work or films could not get made because someone associated with it also had views deemed “wrong.” In the 1940s and 1950s anyone considered a Communist or a “Red sympathizer” or a “pinko” had to clear themselves before they could work in film or television (and many other areas of American life). This usually involved “naming names” of others of suspected views, and thus the cycle continued. No analogy is perfect, but it should be noted that as sincere as the people calling for a boycott of the film are about their opposition to Card’s anti-gay bigotry, the people who wanted to “cleanse” Hollywood of “Red influence” were equally sincere. Many of them truly believed that preventing a “Red” screenwriter from working was a victory over Stalin.
A few years ago Boskone, one of the longest running regional SF conventions, had Card as its guest of honor. A number of people felt they could not attend that year. They did something I greatly respected. They wrote a public letter (which was distributed at the con) acknowledging Card’s stature as an SF author and why it was not inappropriate for him to be invited to the convention, but also saying that his views made it impossible for them to participate. Note that they did not urge other people not to attend. They acted as their own consciences dictated and then used it as a teaching moment.
I had my own experience with Card at the convention. I was asked to do a Q&A session with him focusing on his misadventures in Hollywood up until that point. When we opened it up for questions a woman asked if the movie version of “Ender” would have more girls in the academy than there were in the book. Card could have said it wasn’t up to him. Instead he said he didn’t think so because women weren’t really fit for combat or fighting. I could feel the tension rising in the room as people were ready to argue he was wrong, perhaps by demonstrating it on his person. In one of my rare moments of truly inspired improvisation I said, “We’ll be holding off that discussion until later today when (Harvard President) Larry Summers will be explaining why women are no good at math and science.” Summer’s maladroit comment was then in the news and I got a huge laugh, defusing the anger and letting us move on. However I always remembered that it was Card who provoked the anger in the first place.
When it comes to gay rights (and women in the military for that matter) Card is wrong. Shamefully wrong. He pleads for “tolerance.” That is also wrong. I will absolutely defend his right to express his views, however hateful, but that does not mean we need to treat them as respectable or intelligent. For some those views will taint his works or, in this case, a movie derived from his work. That is an individual choice.
I will go see and review “Ender’s Game” and I’m hoping it’s a really good movie. I will pointedly criticize any attempt to stigmatize the film or organize boycotts against it because of the author of the source material. However if you, individually, feel you just can’t go, I will understand.