Why I’m so conflicted about Ender’s Game and Orson Scott Card

I don’t normally do boycotts. Back in my retail days, the religious right went after the retailer I worked for as part of the whole “War on Christmas” silliness because they didn’t think the company slapped “Merry Christmas” on enough things. The result, at least on my part, was that was the last holiday season I wished customers “Merry Christmas” or any other kind of holiday greeting. All you’d get from me was a, “have an outstanding day.” Whatever I said, if it was holiday-related I couldn’t win. Somebody would get mad. Boycotts tend to put rank and file low level employees on to the front lines of other people’s wars, and as an employee in that situation I quickly figured out that the only way to win is to refuse to play. 

Because of my own boycott experience, there are only a handful of scenarios where I’ll do a boycott. One of those involves making sure that farmworkers are paid a living wage and joining in when the Coalition of Immokalee Workers calls for a boycott on those grounds. That particular kind of boycott isn’t relevant to this discussion so I won’t elaborate on my reasoning there. The other reason I’ll do a boycott is because I don’t want my money going to certain causes that the corporation or its owners donate to.

In that second scenario, it’s less about trying to put pressure on a corporation to take a particular action than it is about the fact that my patronage of that business is what, in the broad scheme of things, makes those corporate donations possible. That’s why I won’t eat at Chick-Fil-A. I don’t want Dan Cathy or Chick-Fil-A using the money they make from me to donate to hate groups.

This then, brings us to Ender’s Game and Orson Scott Card. 

If this was just a movie based on a book with no author involvement, it would be simple. If Orson Scott Card wasn’t getting any money out of this other than what’s already been done in buying the rights to the book, then there would be no reason not to go buy a ticket.

If this was just Orson Scott Card being a bigot of epic proportions but who didn’t use his money to fund organizations that are actively working to deny equal rights, then there would be no reason not to go buy a ticket. 

I don’t really care that Orson Scott Card once wrote some reimagining of Hamlet that’s incredibly homophobic. I don’t really care that he once called for armed revolution in the event that same-sex marriage was legalized. Heck, even being on the board of National Organization for Marriage isn’t a complete no-go. He can believe and say whatever he wants. 

The problem though, is that he’s someone who has put his money where his mouth is. And, as someone with producer credit on the film, he’s making money off of the adaptation above and beyond the sale of the rights. If he’s got an agent worth his or her salt, he’s probably making points off of the gross as well. Orson Scott Card is getting richer off of this, and part of that money is going to be going to organizations that are actively working to deny equal rights to LGBT people. Putting more money in his pocket is probably going to be putting more money into NOM’s coffers as they gear up for the next round of their fight against equal marriage.

So it should be simple then, just skip the movie, or buy a ticket to a different film and go see Ender’s Game instead. 

Except that it’s not so simple.

For as much of a giant corporate event that San Diego Comic Con has become, and for as fashionable as it is to proclaim oneself a nerd, Hollywood still doesn’t produce much good sci-fi. They don’t think there’s money to be made, and then they turn it into a self-fulfilling prophesy by refusing to promote it properly (see the terrible job Sony did promoting the brilliant “Moon”). The only way to get Hollywood to do more quality, thought-provoking sci-fi is to go spend money on the little they give us.

If Ender’s Game does poorly, the bean counters at the studios aren’t going to say, “We shouldn’t get in bed with bigots to make movies,” they’re going to say, “big budget sci-fi that’s not J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek doesn’t sell." 

Ender’s Game has to succeed for us to get more good sci-fi. But if Ender’s Game succeeds, Orson Scott Card gets even more fabulously wealthy and even more money goes to organizations that are working to make sure that not everyone is equal. 

In a way, the fact that we’re even having this discussion is progress. Sci-fi at its best holds a mirror up to society and shows us the best and the worst of ourselves. It shows us how wonderful humans can be at our best, and how horrible we can be at our worst, and it leads us to strive for a future that is better than our messed up present. That’s what people are doing when they’re speaking up and objecting to giving money to Orson Scott Card–they’re striving for that better future.

But as for what to do in the here and now? I don’t know. I don’t want my money going to Card and through him to organizations that are working to enshrine inequality into the law. But on the other hand, I want Hollywood to produce more good sci-fi.

What to do?