Ender’s Blame: Exploring the Controversy Over the Film Adaptation

ender's game book

While the United States is not without its flaws as a country, one of our most cherished freedoms is the right to free speech.  It is a fundamental tenet of the United States Constitution and one of the foundations our founding fathers built this country on. It’s also what sets us apart from fascist countries or theocracies. Obviously, there are exceptions to the rule. You can’t scream fire in a crowded theater if there isn’t one, because this creates a clear and present danger to the people in said theater.

I’ve always agreed with the Thomas Jefferson quote, and I’m paraphrasing here, “I may not agree with what you say sir but I will fight to the death to ensure that you have the right to say it.”  Unfortunately, I think we’ve reached a point in the world’s history where freedom of speech meets with derision and sometimes outright hostility, depending on WHAT you are saying. People don’t respect other’s opinions anymore because they have become so self-assured that theirs is the correct one.  Now having said that, I believe it is our duty as citizens to speak freely against hate speech.

And now we come to the crux of why I went off on my free speech rant–the Ender’s Game movie debacle involving Orson Scott Card.

Ender’s Game is a novel that is not only my favorite science fiction book, but a novel I consider, alongside Frank Herbert’s Dune and Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, one of the best ever written.  However, Orson Scott Card and the film itself have come under fire in recent months because of Card’s stance on gay marriage. In fact, various gay and lesbian organizations have called for a national boycott of the Ender’s Game film. Card is a devout Mormon who has vocalized his opposition to gay marriage in the past. He was also a member of the National Organization for Marriage, a group that vehemently opposes gay marriage.

"Whoa Orson dial down the crazy bro!"

“Whoa Orson dial down the crazy bro!”

Now I want to throw some quotes at you from Card that he’s said over the years. In 1990 Card called for laws that ban consensual homosexual acts to, “remain on the books, not to be indiscriminately enforced against anyone who happens to be caught violating them, but to be used when necessary to send a clear message that those who flagrantly violate society’s regulation of sexual behavior cannot be permitted to remain as acceptable, equal citizens within that society.”  Those are pretty ugly and hateful words. Card has since renounced that statement saying that it was said in the context of the times, and the speech was to a very conservative Mormon audience.  While I don’t buy that excuse, since then he’s stated, “Now that the law has changed I have no interest in criminalizing homosexual acts and would never call for such a thing, any more than I wanted such laws enforced back when they were still on the books.”  I’m not sure if he’s saying he had a moment of insanity and changed his mind, but to say he “would never call for a such a thing, any more than I wanted such laws enforced back when they were still on the books” is bogus in my opinion.  He OBVIOUSLY did, otherwise why make the statement in the first place?  It’s a rather convenient retraction given the current political climate, although to be fair, changing your mind is a right afforded to everyone, even if it sounds disingenuous. Just ask my wife. HEYOOOO! Just kidding honey.

Mr. Card we are all now VERY aware of how extreme your views are.

Mr. Card we are all now VERY aware of how extreme your views are.

Also in 2008 Card wrote, “there is no branch of government with the authority to redefine marriage because when government is the enemy of marriage, then the people who are actually creating successful marriages have no choice but to change governments, by whatever means is made possible or necessary. . . .How long before married people answer the dictators thus: Regardless of law, marriage has only one definition, and any government that attempts to change it is my mortal enemy. I will act to destroy that government and bring it down, so it can be replaced with a government that will respect and support marriage, and help me raise my children in a society where they will expect to marry in their turn.”

I want to give you one more quote from Card and this is his response to the groups calling to ban the movie:

Ender’s Game is set more than a century in the future and has nothing to do with political issues that did not exist when the book was written in 1984.  With the recent Supreme Court ruling, the gay marriage issue becomes moot. The Full Faith and Credit clause of the Constitution will, sooner or later, give legal force in every state to any marriage contract recognized by any other state.  Now it will be interesting to see whether the victorious proponents of gay marriage will show tolerance toward those who disagreed with them when the issue was still in dispute.”

"Yeah I was in Hugo."

“Yeah I was in Hugo.”

Now let me be clear in stating that I think Card is misguided, ignorant, and bigoted when it comes to his opinions on gay marriage.  His remarks parallel closely similar arguments made against interracial marriage in the 1960s.  Card’s comments are reprehensible and his political views are somewhere to the right of Attila the Hun.  I mean come on, no one is preventing his kids from marrying. Also his comment on overthrowing the government based on the marriage issue alone is pretty far-fetched. And the fact that he says gay marriage is a political issue that didn’t exist in 1984 is  naïve and patently false. It certainly wasn’t as much to the forefront as it is now, but it WAS present in 1984.

I for one have no problem with gay marriage. I don’t consider being  gay a sin. I know a few people who are gay, one of them a close friend who sank into such a deep depression that he cut off all contact with his friends and family for over a month. He struggled to come to terms with who he was and how other people would react to him. I can’t imagine how lonely and isolated he must have felt. But I’ve had my own experiences with the depression demons so I can empathize.

This pretty much says it all.

This pretty much says it all.

But I digress.

Getting back to Card, I don’t agree with his opinions on gay marriage and I don’t have to, I have that freedom. Card is also afforded that freedom. But at the end of the day banning his movie because of his personal views is ludicrous to the point of absurdity. Let me give you some other famous authors who were known bigots in one way or another: T.S. Eliot, Roald Dahl, Dr. Seuss, Edith Wharton, Scott Adams, and Ezra Pound. There wasn’t a ban on Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory when it released in 1971, One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish is still available in the library the last time I looked, and I doubt that college English departments are going to stop teaching the works of T.S. Eliot. In addition, people are not going to stop listening to Wagner, and AMC is not going to stop airing Mel Gibson’s Braveheart just because those two jackwagons are anti-Semites.

"Mr.  Card I'm a huge fan!  Wait you're not Jewish are you?"

“Mr. Card I’m a huge fan! Wait you’re not Jewish are you?”

What exactly are these groups hoping to accomplish? Decreased revenue for a production company that’s already championed gay films like Gods and Monsters  and The Perks of Being a Wallflower? It seems to me their time would be better spent promoting their own agenda of tolerance. I’m not saying these groups have to agree with Card or even respect his opinions.  I certainly don’t.   They should speak out against his hateful speech.  However, punishing the production company and its employees by banning Ender’s Game is worthless. Card was already paid when he sold the rights over a decade ago.  Despite the fact that he’s listed as an executive producer, he never spent one day on set and he’s not getting a percentage of the film’s box office receipts. So in the end the only people these groups are ultimately hurting are the employees of Lionsgate, many of whom probably support the stance of these activist groups or are in fact gay themselves! Furthermore, I think they are missing out on an excellent movie which I just had the pleasure of seeing.   Neither the film nor the book bashes gays in any way, shape, or form.  Separating the art from the artist can be a difficult task but to not at least try makes no sense.  This isn’t Mein Kamph, this is a novel and film that explores childhood psychology, friendship, war, genocide, and a host of other topics.

I support these activist groups’ stance, but it makes me wonder how many of those who denigrate Card actually ever read the book.

11 Responses to “Ender’s Blame: Exploring the Controversy Over the Film Adaptation”
  1. C. Aric Hanley says:

    Card doesn’t get money from box office sales, but if the movie is successful it will encourage and increase sales of his book – as has happened with every successful movie adaptation ever. He DOES profit from those, and personally I have no intention of putting money in Card’s pocket, directly or indirectly.

    I’m a fan of the book, I really like Ender’s Game (and I also like Ender’s Shadow, but I think the series pretty much peaked there and bottomed out directly afterwards) but I didn’t pay to read it and I won’t be paying to see this.


    • Aric you make an excellent point about the book sales. In fact I thought about that immediately after I finished this article. Yeah the Shadow books are decent but I thought after Xenocide things peaked too. Although I will admit that Earth Unaware and Earth Afire the prequels to Ender’s Game are actually very good.


  2. theelderj says:

    Isn’t the idea (even if misinformed and misguided) in a boycott to keep Card from getting money he might use to ‘nefarious’ political ends?

    I have long liked his books but been more than dissatisfied with his politics. For this reason, I have never wanted to spend money on his publications lest some of that money be used to deprive people of rights and freedoms. I don’t know what the deal is that he made with the release of the film rights, but if he gets a percentage of the box office, then a boycott makes some sense.

    On another note, I have always been a bit surprised at the gulf between the open-mindedness and creativity of his writing and the close-mindedness of his politics.


    • Theelderj thank fully he’s not making any money from the box office receipts which I for one am glad about. I can definitely see not wanting to give the guy money knowing that it could lead to, as you put it, “nefarious” political agendas. I wouldn’t have bought Mein Kampf if I’d lived in the 1930s for the same reason. You also make an EXCELLENT point about his writing. It’s not just a gulf between close mindedness of his politics and his writing, it’s a freakin’ ocean. I don’t know if you’ve ever read the “Memory of Earth” books but as I recall there was a pretty prominent gay character in that series of books that wasn’t treated as a second class citizen.


  3. I disagree. Boycotting the film is entirely compatible with free speech because said right also guarantees you any and all consequences of what you said. Card now understand that due to his stupid and inane blubbering about things that do not personally impact him outside of his sensitive moral aura, the rights to his movie are worth less due to audience decline. He may also find that the impact of his products are overrun by the power of his hurtful words. Speech, meet consequence.

    But is that any lesser than any other reason to not see a film? I won’t go see the movie because it looks like a reader’s digest form of the book, heavily filtered of any intelligence, not to mention my lack of faith in Hollywood at making something even entertaining. Compared to those entirely justified reasons, boycotting Ender’s Game due to the doofus author seems lofty and intellectual, but it’s practically identical thinking.

    Can I feel sorry for the movie makers in this instance? Not at all. They chose to pick a source for their film which has long been a source of controversy, and they chose to make the film a large, dazzling extravaganza that forces said political discussion to be just as loud. They have free choice in which books to adapt, and choosing to adapt the words of a homophobic fool like Card means there will be consequences. Can you blame the viewers for not seeing the film? No, of course not. Card needs no consoling over his lost cause, and movie makers need no consoling over their bad choices.

    I am under no obligation to go to any movie. I do not consume media by default; a film has to convince me it’s worth watching. If the film fails to entice me for any number of reasons (which may stem from political ideology) that does not in any way infringe on the free speech of the author or movie makers. To conflate the two is a grave misunderstanding of the rights afforded to us, and we are under no obligation to befriend or include the champions of lost causes against human rights.


    • Hardcastle I absolutely support anybody’s right to boycott a film. And to be perfectly frank I can see why people would want to do it. And believe me I’m not crying any tears from the movie producers on this film who make oodles of cash. I actually was thinking more about the grips, the sound check people, makeup artists, etc who keep a production running. I’m not exactly sure how the actual book is a source of controversy though if I’m reading your comment right. The author certainly but not the book. And you couldn’t be more wrong about the film. It’s not a Reader’s Digest version of the book. Is it a perfect adaptation? Absolutely not. Most book to film adapatations never are. But it’s an adaptation that’s worthy of the novel. I agree that any film has to entice me as well to get me to watch it. As a movie critic myself though I have to be open to seeing any and all movies regardless. I’d rather pour sulfuric acid in my eyes rather than watch “Deuce Bigelow European Gigilo” or any Tyler Perry movie but I can’t outright completely condemn those movies without seeing them at all. That would just be poor reporting on my part. I have to judge a film on it’s own merits. I can recognize that ‘Braveheart’ is a great movie even if Mel Gibson is anti-semitic douchebag or that ‘Chinatown’ is one of the best films of the 70s even though Roman Polanski had sex with a 13 year old. Does that mean I approve of their actions? Hell no. But I can separate the artist from the art.


      • There’s a lot to respond to, I’ll do my best.

        The production staff inevitably has to deal with the bad choices of their bosses. This is true about all industries. Just because every person who works at Walmart doesn’t support their terrible labor policies and poor product decisions doesn’t mean we have to shop at Walmart to support them. Once again, I (nor is society at large) am under no moral obligation to support anyone for their hard work. Movies fail for much more trivial reasons than “the subject material’s author continues to spout homophobic nonsense.”

        I don’t really care about your opinion of the Ender’s Game film. I do not have interest in seeing it for reasons already stated. And as much as you’d like to think that one does not have to filter their choices of what movies they see, there is simply too much media released to consume it all (not to mention media from the past!). Your “open” policy on what you watch is merely what you think “professionals” should do, which is not objective in the least – it has no bearing on how professional writers must actually act, nor how the rest of us actually consume content.

        And not only that, but I believe that movie criticism is not complete without a perception of the people who made it. You’re free to disagree, but there is a level if discussion here that one cannot dismiss out of hand as “I must judge this movie on its own merits.” That heavily depends on what you want to say. I often find movie criticism more useful when it is reflected upon the movie’s director, writer, producing staff and source material, because that’s where patterns emerge in a body of work.

        If there is disparity between the artist and the art, then such a gap should be discussed and critically analyzed. So, yes, I do think Chinatown and Braveheart deserve critical thinking with their artists in mind. Movies can be messily made, with convoluted and contradictory thematic messages, and the reality of most film (with the exception of the recent shallow sci-fi blockbuster) is much more complicated than anyone is willing to admit. The only thing we can do to grapple with complexity is to embrace it, and view it upon as many lens as we possibly can.


  4. Slam Adams says:

    I haven’t read each and every talking point about or against the movie, but as long as the difference between banning and boycotting remain distinct, than I don’t have a problem. No piece of literature et al should every be banned, but boycotting (or more specifically protesting for a boycott) falls under the same amendment that protects Card.


  5. drakulus23 says:

    I honestly don’t care what his views are. As long I as enjoye his books and movies made from them I have no problem buying it.


  6. Great discussion folks, and thank you for raising the issue.

    I have just finished re-reading Ender’s Game and then went on to read the sequel for the first time; they’re both excellent novels. I have always been keen to see a big budget big screen adaptation of Ender’s Game. But, I find the author’s political comments to be truly abhorrent. So now I’m in a pickle.

    After pondering the issue, I have decided to not send a single dollar in the direction of Card. I will not pay money to see the film because if it’s a financial flop other production companies will be hesitant to buy the rights to his works. And he will hopefully learn that there are consequences for being a hateful bigot.

    But I’m not happy about the decision (even though I believe it’s the right one to make) and it makes me sad.

    I am also deeply saddened at the gulf between the man and his works.

    DarthGandalf: funny you mention that trilogy of sci-fi books because I also recently just finished Starship Troopers. It’s an excellent book but I can understand the accusations of it being pro-militarism and even pro-fascism. I’ve heard another film adaptation is on the way, apparently more faithful to the book than Verhoeven’s very loose work.


  7. darthmalius says:

    I have never agreed that yelling “Fire” in a crowded theatre should be illegal. If it causes harm then that harm should be criminalized. If not saying fire could prevent that harm them we simply have a jerk who doesn’t care and will find another way to get his sadistic kicks. Making it illegal to do something because it might lead to harm is minority report territory. Don’t punish everybody for the mistakes of a few.
    I don’t get it. Twilight was a Mormon manifesto and I didn’t hear any big thing about that every time it came out or the some how even more terrible “The Host”.
    How exactly would card be able to do anything with the money to affect the growing trend in this country for acceptance? I mean seriously why power do you think the guy has. Until this movie came out I’d never even heard of the guy let along knew anything about his political views. I saw the movie and if it weren’t for this article I never even would have known there was an issue.
    For anybody who believe in the power of a boycott in this day and age I’d like them to boycott Oil and ask for more electric car varieties and in more affordable price ranges. I’ll wait here till you succeed.


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