Over the past few months, there’s been a lot of heated discussion over Orson Scott Card, the author of Ender’s Game, which has been adapted into a film being released this week starring Asa Butterfield, Harrison Ford and Ben Kingsley. The sci-fi story, first published in 1985, sees a young boy drafted into a futuristic military school at a young age, trained through relentless battle simulations to become the future savior of earth from an impending alien attack. The content of the novel has nothing to do with why Card is under such heavy scrutiny, however — instead, it has everything to do with his views on homosexuality.
You see, Orson Scott Card is a homophobe. The North Carolina resident and member of the Church of Latter Day Saints has denied the label himself, complaining that it is “a term that has mental health applications” in an opinion piece for the Utah newspaper Deseret News, but in the same piece claims that homosexuality is a “tragic genetic mixup” and that if any government attempted to change the definition of marriage, he would “act to destroy that government and bring it down.” These views might be troubling enough, but he’s had the commitment to the cause to put his money where his mouth is, funding and working with groups that have campaigned against same-sex marriage, having spent several years as a member of the board of directors of the National Organization for Marriage, an organization founded for the express purpose of passing California Proposition 8, which would have effectively banned same-sex marriages.
Having bigoted views would be one thing, but spending his money to promote bigoted views and attempt to restrict gay people’s freedoms is a bigger problem. Because that means that if you contribute to his income, you indirectly contribute to his campaigns. That, of course, means that every time you buy one of his books, or attend a screening of Ender’s Game, you’re more than likely contributing to his causes. Understandably, there are a few people who aren’t too happy about that.
The film’s distributor, Lionsgate Entertainment, has attempted to distance itself from Card, releasing a statement making it clear that they “obviously do not agree with [his] personal views,” but this has done little to assuage the fears of potential viewers keen not to support Card’s campaigning.
The LGBT activist group Geeks OUT proposed a boycott of the film this July, setting up the website Skip Ender’s Game. They urge fans and others to “not let your box-office dollars fuel his anti-gay agenda,” and have so far secured more than 11,000 signatures on their pledge to skip the film. Complicating matters is the fact that Card stepped down from the board of the National Organization for Marriage earlier this year, and has since claimed that the same-sex marriage issue is “moot,” suggesting that he has perhaps given up on his campaigns against it. Geeks OUT have not let this dampen their boycott, however, claiming that “anti-gay activism, even violence, remains a national and global issue.”
It’s a tricky situation in a lot of ways. Realistically, once you take out the theatre’s cut, distribution and marketing costs, and the inevitably significant production costs, your cinema ticket is unlikely to even give Card pennies. And assuming that he doesn’t spend every cent that he earns on anti-same-sex-marriage campaigns, it’s plausible that only a small fraction of that would make it to a campaign — if any at all, given his recent statements. Realistically, your cinema ticket contributes a fraction of a cent to Card’s agenda. Of course, as with all these issues, the worry is how the crowd acts in aggregate, not any individual. If enough people see the film, those fractions of cents add up to enough money to make a difference. In that case, of course, most of the blame lies with those who originally greenlit the production, allowing Card to make this money in the first place. Unsurprisingly, this boils down to someone, somewhere, making a morally suspect decision for the sake of profits. No surprises there, then.
Finally, just days before the film’s release, TheWrap reported that Card’s deal involves no back-end earnings at all — meaning that he was paid his cut long ago, and none of the film’s profits will be going to him. The boycott campaign has comfortably taken this news in its stride, however, questioning the veracity of the claims and making it clear that, “We’re not buying this last-ditch attempt to fill movie seats,” on the campaign’s Facebook page.
But where does that leave you? To be honest, I don’t think you’ve got much to worry about. Even if the recent reports are false and Card does have a profit-share, your fraction of a cent is unlikely to tip the balance – especially since Card looks to be on the losing side of this conflict. And unless you’re seriously committed to investigating the spending practices of every major company, it’s pretty likely that plenty of your previous expenditure has contributed to some slightly suspect causes. Realistically, it’s hard to avoid. So don’t stress about the moral quandaries involved in a trip to the multiplex. And if you really can’t get away from the crushing guilt, then donate $1 to a gay rights organization. There. Now you’ve contributed literally thousands times more money to the good guys today, and you got to see the movie. Result.
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