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A Primer on Orson Scott Card and the Ender’s Game Controversy

Photo: Richard Foreman/? 2012 Summit Entertainment, LLC. All rights reserved.

The film version of Orson Scott Card’s beloved 1985 sci-fi best seller Ender’s Game finally hits screens after ten months of a media firestorm over Card’s shocking writings, which has overshadowed the movie itself: The right-wing, devoutly Mormon author has a well-documented history of public homophobia and has published numerous anti-gay screeds since the nineties. The lead-up to the film’s release has seen boycotts from LGBT groups, and the stars and director have been peppered nonstop with questions about how they reconcile Card’s beliefs with their participation in the movie, which has become a journalistic afterthought. For those who haven’t been paying attention, a quick refresher on the uproar is in order — at which point you can then join book fans in doing what they’ve been doing since February: debating whether you can separate the views of the artist from the art itself.

Ender’s Game
, a futuristic novel about a wunderkind military strategist helping mankind combat an alien invasion, is published to critical acclaim, winning both the Nebula Award and Hugo Award for Best Novel.

The sequel, Speaker for the Dead, also receives both the Hugo and Nebula. This makes Card the only author to have been awarded science fiction’s two most important U.S. prizes back to back. Ender’s Game will go on to become one of the most influential science-fiction novels of its time, selling millions of copies, being translated into more than 25 languages, and spawning numerous sequels and spinoffs.

February 1990
Card’s long history of public writings against homosexuality begins. In an essay for Sunstone magazine, Card writes that states should keep laws prohibiting homosexual behavior on the books “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.” Recently, Card released a new introduction to the piece, stating that he no longer advocates the same views and that his stance must be viewed in context. “[N]ow that the law has changed,” Card writes, “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.”

February 2004
In an essay called “Homosexual ‘Marriage’ and Civilization,” in the aptly named (and now defunct) Rhinoceros Times, Card continues to rail against homosexuals, arguing that “the dark secret of homosexual society” is “how many homosexuals first entered into that world through a disturbing seduction or rape or molestation or abuse.”

July 2008
Card continues to be prolific in his hatred. In a long essay in the LDS-church-owned Deseret News, he argues against same-sex marriage, writing that any government that attempts to change the definition of marriage is his “mortal enemy” that he will act to destroy. “American government cannot fight against marriage and hope to endure. If the Constitution is defined in such a way as to destroy the privileged position of marriage, it is that insane Constitution, not marriage, that will die,” he writes.

April 2009
Card becomes a member of the board of directors of the National Organization for Marriage, an anti-gay-marriage group.

September 2010
Meanwhile, the Ender’s Game movie, having languished in production limbo for almost two decades, finally gets a tentative director attached: Gavin Hood, of Tsotsi and X Men Origins: Wolverine. The film looks like it might finally be on its way to getting made, having struggled for years, owing in part to conflicts between Card and the studios.

February 2011
Questions about homophobic undertones in Card’s literature are raised. With the rerelease of his 2008 novella Hamlet’s Father, in which Hamlet’s father is a gay pedophile, Publisher’s Weekly accuses Card of linking pedophilia with homosexuality. The book’s publisher is inundated with complaints. Card denies the allegations, saying, “It is the reviewer, not me, who has asserted this link, which I would not and did not make.”

April 2011
In lighter news, Deadline announces that Summit Entertainment had picked up distribution for the Ender’s Game film, with Gavin Hood confirmed to serve as the movie’s director.

November-December 2011
Casting announcements are made: Asa Butterfield is to star as Ender and Harrison Ford will play Ender’s teacher Colonel Hyram Graff.

May 2012
Card supports his home state of North Carolina’s constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. In an op-ed for the Rhinoceros Times, he argues that gay marriage would serve as “the bludgeon [the left] use to make sure that it becomes illegal to teach traditional values in the schools.”

January 2013
Ender’s Game
tops Publisher’s Weekly’s 2012 best-seller list in the category of science fiction.

February 2013
With the film’s release on the horizon, a new controversy brings Card’s homophobic views squarely into the media spotlight. On February 6, Card is selected as one of a roster of guest authors for DC Comics’ new “Adventures of Superman” comic-book series, leading to instant backlash. LGBT website AllOut.org starts an online petition requesting that DC Comics drop Card. David Gerrold, an LGBT writer known for his work on the original Star Trek series, volunteers to “balance out” DC’s decision to hire Card by offering to pen a Superman story for a future issue. DC Comics responds with a statement: “The personal views of individuals associated with DC Comics are just that — personal views — and not those of the company itself.” Meanwhile, spurred on by the Superman controversy, media rumblings regarding the upcoming film’s fate are getting louder. On February 20, The Hollywood Reporter releases a piece saying that Card’s views are likely to pose trouble for the film. The piece questions whether Card will appear at the film’s upcoming panel at Comic-Con. The media onslaught begins in earnest.

March 2013
In response to the negative media reaction against Card, artist Christopher Sprouse announces he is stepping down from the “Adventures of Superman” project. DC Comics announces that they have put Card’s story on hold indefinitely.

May 7, 2013
The first trailer for Ender’s Game is released.

June 9 2013
Ender’s Game tops the New York Times best-seller list for paperback mass-market fiction. As of today, the novel has been sitting on the list for 53 weeks.

Early July 2013
Pro-LGBT organization Geeks OUT launches a campaign persuading audiences to skip Ender’s Game. “Do not let your box-office dollars fuel [Card’s] anti-gay agenda,” the campaign declares. The group plans to organize boycott events in various cities to coincide with the film’s release. As of today, the petition had more than 11,000 signatures.

July 8, 2013
Responding to threats of a boycott, Card releases an exclusive statement in Entertainment Weekly in which he declares the gay-marriage issue “moot” as a result of the recent Supreme Court ruling. “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,” he writes. Unsurprisingly, LGBT groups find his request for “tolerance” unmoving.

July 12, 2013
Summit Entertainment parent company Lionsgate, having long remained silent on the controversy, finally releases a statement saying that while they obviously disagree with Card’s personal views, “They are completely irrelevant to a discussion of Ender’s Game. The simple fact is that neither the underlying book nor the film itself reflect these views in any way, shape or form.” They pledge to hold a benefit premiere of the film supporting LGBT issues.

July 18–21, 2013
At the upcoming film’s Comic-Con panel on July 18 (which Card did not attend), audience members are fast to raise questions about the controversy. Producer Roberto Orci is ready with a response, explaining that “the message of the book and the movie is tolerance, compassion, empathy” and that “rather than shying away from the controversy, we’re happy to actually embrace it and use the spotlight — no matter how we got here — to say we support LGBT rights and human rights.” His response is met with wide applause. The debate continues to rage throughout Comic-Con as Gavin Hood, Harrison Ford, and the other cast members rise to defend the film. Their responses all strike similar notes, stating that while they disagree with Card’s views, such views are irrelevant to the film itself. “I think none of Mr. Card’s concerns regarding the issues of gay marriage are part of the thematics of this film,” Ford tells reporters. “He has written something that I think is of value to us all concerning moral responsibility. I think his views outside of those that we deal with in this film are not an issue for me to deal with and something I have really no opinion on.” Ford, Hood, and others will make numerous statements to this effect over the coming weeks.

July 19, 2013
An EW article reports that, days after releasing his statement declaring the gay-marriage issue moot, Card quietly stepped down from the board of the National Organization for Marriage.

July 31, 2013
Speaking at length to LGBT publication The Advocate, director Gavin Hood speaks to the irony of the whole issue, arguing that the story itself is an empowering one for LGBT youths. “It is so ironic that the writer of the work that has helped so many [young] people, gay and straight, to find empowerment, to feel empowered, to find their own moral compass — it’s very sad that he, himself, is struggling with these issues. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that in struggling with these issues, he wrote a great book. I think what would be far more helpful is if audiences knew that the makers of this film, and the film itself, holds the polar opposite point of view to the current thinking of Orson Scott Card on gay issues.”

August 14, 2013
Just when it seemed that things were starting to simmer down, the press discovers a 3,000-word diatribe written by Card in May, in which he compares Hitler to Obama. “Obama will put a thin veneer of training and military structure on urban gangs, and send them out to channel their violence against Obama’s enemies,” he writes.

October 8, 2013
The cast and crew continue to defend the film. As The Guardian reports, speaking in London at a promotional event, Ford says, “There is nothing in the film or the book addressing [Card’s] current dispositions, or prejudices. We care about the positive aspects of the story we are telling.” Hood gives an impassioned speech about his struggle to reconcile Card’s views with the pro-tolerance message of the film, referencing Wagner and Mel Gibson to make the point that “Art and their creators often diverge. Art is an expression of our higher selves and we who make art don’t always measure up to the art we create.”

October 27, 2013
In an interview with Deseret News’ Sunday Edition, Card claims he has been the victim of character assassination. “I’ve had no criticism. I’ve had savage, lying, deceptive personal attacks, but no actual criticism because they’ve never addressed any of my actual ideas,” he tells the paper.

October 28, 2013
At Monday night’s premiere in Los Angeles, Hood and the gang field questions yet again, possibly for the last time before the public weighs in. “The book is a fantastic book full of wonderful themes like compassion and tolerance and I am distressed by Orson’s position on gay marriage,” says Hood. “I hold the opposite view. But I loved the book … Would I prefer to be doing a movie without controversy? Yes, but I’m not in the least distressed that we are having this conversation. It is a very important conversation. It’s just odd that our film, which is all about tolerance, has to be used to counter of the author.”

November 1, 2013
The film will open. Currently sitting at 69 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, only time and box-office totals will tell whether the controversy has sullied the film permanently, or whether viewers will be able to separate a timeless story from the flaws of its maker.

A Primer on the Ender’s Game Controversy