Usually when people organize a boycott of a big Hollywood movie, you sort of assume they’ll barely make a dent. But with Ender’s Game, it actually seems somewhat possible that the fan boycott of the film could generate enough static to keep the studio from getting the word out.
A bit of backstory: Ender’s Game is a classic 1985 novel by Orson Scott Card, about a war between humans and insectoid aliens, known as the Formics or “Buggers.” The book has won tons of awards, and is considered a major classic of the genre. In the nearly three decades since writing Ender’s Game, Card has established himself as a leading critic of same-sex marriage, and has advocated for laws against homosexuality.
Over the years, Card’s homophobic views have caused an uproar — most notably when he wrote a weird gay-baiting version of Shakespeare’s Hamlet and when the artist on his Superman comic quit to avoid controversy over his views.
But it wasn’t until recently, with a huge budget movie of Ender’s Game coming this fall, that Card’s opinions on homosexuality have become more of an issue. A group called Geeks OUT has started a campaign called Skip Ender’s Game on the grounds that if you buy a ticket to the movie, you’re putting money in Card’s pockets. This boycott was already getting a lot of attention, when Card threw gasoline on the fire by issuing a bizarre statement claiming that homosexuality wasn’t an issue in 1985, and boycotting his work is a sign of intolerance.
All of which makes me wonder: Is this controversy going to make it hard to get mainstream audiences to pay attention to the film? To be successful, an Ender’s Gamefilm has to reach beyond fans of the books, and if the movie is remotely close to the subject matter of the book, then there are going to be some themes and ideas that will freak out a lot of mainstream audiences. Reading from this book has already gotten one middle-school teacher in trouble.
Even by itself, a movie about space seems to be a hard sell these days — and we’ve seen plenty of other similar movies lose out lately, because mainstream movie audiences just couldn’t get interested in them. So it seems entirely possible that the mainstream media will be too busy debating Card’s views, and moviegoers will come away with a vague sense that this is a movie about gay-bashing. (The fact that the aliens are called “Buggers” probably does not help.) In today’s crowded movie marketplace, it seems like you have a brief chance to get people’s attention and sell them on your film — and if there’s any narrative out there that confuses the issue, you’re probably doomed.
If that does happen, of course, it won’t be the boycott organizers’ fault — it’ll be Card’s. He absolutely has the right to express unpopular or extreme views, but he also has to take the consequences. He wouldn’t be the first artist whose work was ignored or marginalized because of extremist political opinions, and in this case it’s hard to feel sorry. On the other hand, this could be another nail in the coffin of us getting interesting, challenging space opera on the big screen.
As to whether you should join the boycott — that’s absolutely a personal decision, and probably depends on how much you’re able to separate the author from his work. There are some pretty good thoughts on the subject in this comment from dlomax, however.