The movie "boycott" is not an attempt to effect real social change so much as a McCarthyist effort to blacklist a writer whose views we detest.

The movie “boycott” is not an attempt to effect real social change so much as a McCarthyist effort to blacklist a writer whose views we detest. (Shutterstock)

This week I have become aware of a planned boycott of the movie Ender’s Game, scheduled to open in theaters on November 1. A group called Geeks Out is pushing consumers to avoid the film because Orson Scott Card, who wrote the original 1985 novel and is one of several producers of the movie, is virulently opposed to homosexuality and same-sex marriage.

I think Card’s views on homosexuality are reprehensible. Although we are both Mormon, I could not disagree with him more on this issue, as you can see in posts stretching back several years (2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013).

But that doesn’t mean I agree with this boycott. In fact, I think it’s ridiculous.

Anyone who has read Ender’s Game understands that the novel (and presumably, the film on which it is based) has nothing to do with homosexuality or same-sex marriage. It’s a futuristic sci fi story that addresses war, trauma, and the unique promise of precocious children.

What’s more, the writer of this original story is one of only hundreds of people who have worked on the Hollywood movie that will be Ender’s Game. Do we punish all of them because the views of a single person associated with this project are repugnant?

The time to boycott anything is when your action can potentially change a product or company that is morally objectionable. There needs to be a direct relationship, however, between what is objectionable about that product or company and your action.

There are many examples of successful boycotts.

  • In the late eighteenth century, William Wilberforce and others led a massive English boycott of all sugar that had been grown with slave labor, raising awareness of the evils of slavery and eventually contributing to its abolition in Britain.
  • The bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama in the mid-1950s was directly related to the fact that the bus company was prohibiting African American riders the right to sit anywhere on the bus. The boycott not only accomplished its goal in desegregating the buses, but galvanized the entire civil rights movement.
  • And in a more recent example (2009-10), the Fruit of the Loom company gave in to enormous pressure from student-led protests and boycotts of its products after the company closed down a Honduran factory that had unionized. The United Students Against Sweatshops organization was responsible for nearly 100 U.S. colleges severing their business relationships with Fruit of the Loom, which lost over $50 million in sales before reopening the Honduran factory and agreeing to increased workers’ rights in all of its plants.

This is how successful boycotts work. There needs to be a direct relationship between the boycott and the injustice in question.

When there is no such direct relationship, as with the Ender’s Game film, a “boycott” is not really a boycott. It’s McCarthyism. According to a New York Times editorial this week,

What Geeks Out has in mind is closer to blacklisting. The group wants to “send a clear and serious message to Card and those that do business with his brand of antigay activism — whatever he’s selling, we’re not buying.” This isn’t about stopping the dissemination of antigay sentiments; it’s about isolating Mr. Card and shaming his business partners, thus cutting into their profits.

If Mr. Card belongs in quarantine, who’s next?

Who’s next? It’s a great question. The premise of the Ender’s Game boycott seems to be that we should avoid any art and literature that is created by people whose political views are distasteful. Sitting here at my desk, there is a poster of my favorite painting hanging on the wall above me. Should I take it down because the artist, Pablo Picasso, treated the women in his life so shabbily? Should I remove it because he never fought against the Nazis, preferring a neutrality that probably masked cowardice?

Or – here’s a thought – should I keep the poster because the painting is beautiful and true apart from its creator’s personal behavior and beliefs?

So, yes. I will be seeing this movie. Perhaps the next day I’ll run a blog post encouraging people to avoid it, but if that happens it will not because of the writer’s politics; I will encourage you to skip it only if the film adaptation of this excellent novel turns out to be a waste of your time and money.

One final comment. I try not to use words like “stupid” on my blog. Doing so is inflammatory, and it rarely elevates the conversation. However, this so-called boycott meets the dictionary definition of stupid – lacking intelligence or common sense – so after some deliberation I let the headline stand.

This is, quite simply, stupid.

16 Comments

  1. The movie;s director said this at Comicon last week: “My view is I’ve been a member of the Courage Campaign for many years and I’m a little distressed by his point of view on gay marriage,” Hood said.

    “However, the book is not about that issue, so I hope people can still appreciate the book because I think he wrote a great book, and the themes and ideas in the book, I think, are universal and timeless and applicable, and I hope the book will still be appreciated as a great work of art, even though I don’t agree with the author. I optioned the book, not an author, and I love what the author said in that book.”

  2. Raymond Takashi Swenson

    Janna, you are precisely correct. There are undoubtedly all sorts of opinions about same sex marriage among the people who worked on the Ender’s Game movie, not to mention some people who identify with the LGBT community, and trying to suppress dissenting viewpoints by punishing people who actively disagree with your own is the way that Yosemite Sam attacks a fly with a blunderbuss, which ends up with his home in shambles while the fly buzzes away.

    The Ender’s Game story has nothing to do with sexuality. Rather, it raises questions about the nature of war and the lengths we as a society are willing to go to, including changing our children, in order to win a war against a truly alien species that is not humans in rubber suits. And in the sequels to the book, learning to respect both other humans and true aliens is a theme that is thoughtfully developed, a theme with clear implications for how we deal with each other here in the 21st Century. As cathartic as it may be to finally obliterate the alien, as satisfying as it might feel for the enemies of Card to obliterate his work, they are cultivating hate towards the Other that does not lead to reconciliation and peace, but only unending hatred and conflict. They are among the people who would really benefit from reading and thinking about those stories.

    I have read just about every book and story Card has published, and in the few instances I can recall when one of the characters has been identifiably homosexual, they have NOT been portrayed in a negative light because of that. For example, in one of the books in The Memory of Earth series, which is a science fiction story expanding on part of the narrative in the Book of Mormon, Card identifies the counterpart of an important Book of Mormon character, Zoram, custodian of the record that the sons are sent back to retrieve, as a homosexual, and partly because of that the character is more willing to join the family in their flight from the capital because of the persecution he and other homosexuals had experienced there. Overall, I have seen nothing in Card’s fiction that I could understand anyone calling “reprehensible” in its depiction of homosexuals.

  3. You know, I kept noticing the commentary made on the facebook post on this as well…and one that kept coming up was how Orson Scott Card would be making even more money on the sales generated by this movie, and people just refused to line his pockets with more ill-gotten dough.

    It should then be noted…

    Card has already been paid. He’s not receiving any cut of the ticket sales. They paid him for royalties, for the rights to the movie, and that was it. Done. He’s listed as a producer, yes, but that’s almost more a courtesy than anything else because he wrote the book it’s based on and had a hand in getting the movie produced in the first place. But he’s not actually sharing in the profits. If you don’t want to see the movie, fine, don’t. But don’t use “I don’t want to give him my money” as an excuse, because he isn’t GETTING your money when you go see this film. You’re only hurting every other person who worked specifically on the movie — every actor, every set guy, every sound guy…Card himself will do just fine, it’s really no skin off his nose (as the saying goes). And what has Harrison Ford ever done to anyone? :)

    And honestly? Where was all this “boycotting” business with the “Twilight” saga? She may not be as vocal about her views as Card is, but she is devoutly Mormon and reportedly donated some of her individual earnings to the Prop 8 campaign. Where was the outrage about the viral popularity of THOSE movies? Hypocrisy much?

    • Is it hypocrisy to not call out Meyer? Not as much as you want to argue, considering that there is a significant difference between an author who holds (and perhaps financially supports) personal marriage views and an author who sits as a board member of a national organization that aggressively seeks to disenfranchise gay persons, not just in terms of marriage but in all aspects of daily living. And last I checked, Meyer didn’t pen articles calling for the overthrow of any government that legally recognized same-sex marriage.

      And this is why I have an issue with the Picasso comparison. Yes, Picasso treated women shabbily. But did he publicly advocate for their abuse? Did he seek to legislatively impinge them from pursuing equal treatment under the law?

      This is not about an author with unpopular views; it’s about an activist with unpopular views. Who happens to be an author.

      While the boycott may not be effective, the sad truth is that we now live in a society that only seems to value the vote of the dollar, which is why the boycott exists. Will it be effective? Likely not. (Chick-fil-a is a lovely example A of that.) But it is the only vehicle that many feel is left to voice their displeasure with a bigot who seems to have an unusually large platform for spewing his views.

      And perhaps Card won’t see any more money from this project, but he would certainly like to see money from production of the sequels. So maybe this little furor will at least give Lion’s Gate and others pause as they consider what it’s worth to be associated with Card. Because everyone has a price.

      • The distinction between Picasso and Card is pertinent.

        If Card gets more money, he has more money to spend on anti-gay causes. Buying a Picasso doesn’t jeopardize women’s suffrage.

  4. When you say hundreds of people who worked on the film would be punished by a boycott that’s not really accurate. A handful of creative people who have shares of the profit of the film or whose next huge paycheck for an upcoming film could depend on the success of “Enders’ Game” could be hurt. This, of course, includes Card. But it’s reasonable to think that they will still fare very nicely on their fallback assets.

    In addition, there are some executives at the production company who are in very similar straits.

    The hundreds who make up the below-the-line cast and crew have little if anything at risk. They’ll get a paycheck for “Enders’ Game” regardless of its profitability. They’ll go on to their next scale (industry standard for their wage) project in the predictable way.

  5. You can call SkipEndersGame stupid, but you can’t make me go to this stupid movie based on a book by a hateful homophobe. I’m under no obligation to give Orson Scott Card any money.

    You can call SkipEndersGame stupid, but guess what? It’s already been successful in making more people aware of Orson Scott Card’s extremely homophobic views.

    You can call SkipEndersGame stupid and say that Orson Scott Card has already received his royalties for this movie, but Enders Game producer Bob Orci is already talking about potential sequels to this movie. If Enders Game is successful and they make sequels, guess who’ll get more money? That’s right, Orson Scott Card will. Why would any LGBT person want to give OSC money to give to the National Organization for Marriage or any other anti-gay organization?

  6. Here are my thoughts on the Orson Scott Card/Ender’s Game boycott stupidity.

    In general, I think that boycotts are dumb, unless you have a murderer or rapist (a la Roman Polansky), it is dumb to whip up a storm over political disagreements. That said, I don’t have a problem with someone simply choosing not to partake in a particular form of media due to what they find to be egregious statements or beliefs on the part of the creator. You have the freedom to do both, but morally, I find the boycott more problematic for the culture of fear it creates in people putting forth their point of view.

    For myself, I know that I have not joined many who are ideologically close to me in swooning over Ayn Rand. I can’t take the combination of her hatred she had in life for Christianity, and contempt for the disabled. So for myself, I won’t partake of her stuff, but I also won’t go creating a fuss about it. To each his or her own. I’m about winning folks over, not punishing people.

    As for those who dislike Card’s views, where is the condemnation of Bill Mahr saying horrific things about a little disabled boy just to hurt his mother (Sarah Palin, because I don’t care what you or I think of her grandstanding at times, only a complete MONSTER mocks a disabled person)? Where is the condemnation of these subtle ways in which the disabled are looked down on in everyday society? How about the condemnation of how so many disabled children are aborted? How about condemning Sean Penn and others that support ACTUAL despots like Castro and Chavez, and not in a realpolitik “we have no choice but to associate with bad people” way, but in a cheerful, eager, true-believer way?

    Finally, how many liberal folks wanting to boycott Card see the dystopian future depicted in the novel where religion is persecuted (albeit more softly) and population control is active, as all that bad? If people don’t, see it as bad, or they don’t condemn the things I listed above, they have no moral authority to condemn anything, not when they are anti-disabled bigots.

  7. “It’s a great question. The premise of the Ender’s Game boycott seems to be that we should avoid any art and literature that is created by people whose political views are distasteful.”

    This is not the premise of the Ender’s Game boycott. It’s easy to call such a boycott stupid if you’re unwilling to engage with the reasons for the boycott.

    The premise of the boycott is simple: Orson Scott Card gets a percentage of the profits from Ender’s game. He’s an anti-gay activist, he works for anti-gay organizations, and he donates to them.

    So, in very simple terms, the better Ender’s Game does, the more money goes to Anti-gay organizations.

    This is the direct relationship you failed to see and claimed was absent.

    Now that you *can* see it, you should also be able to see that this is a boycott, not a blacklist – all OSC needs to do to end the boycott is say that none of the money he makes will go to anti-gay organizations.

    • Let me tell you a little secret: everytime you spend money on ANYTHING chances are a small amount of it is going to end up trickling into anti-gay organizations. Money doesn’t stop after two people, it keeps on flowing. Plus there are countless other people besides Card who support these organizations, and chances are you bought something that directly feeds them income. Thus spending money on ANYTHING will spend more money on anti-gay organizations. The logic that you are using is convoluted. My problem with the boycott is that one, it tries to portray everyone who wants to watch the movie as being anti-gay rights, which is bullshit and very unethical, and two, it’s not actually going to change anything politically as no matter how much money Card puts into said organization it’s pretty much powerless. The only message that’s being sent is it’s okay to attack people for having different opinions, even if said opinions are abhorrent, and that gay rights should be advocated through fear rather than love.

  8. Raymond Takashi Swenson

    I have seen expressions of hatred from those attacking Card, seeking to deprive him of income as a means to coerce him against his will into submitting to the will of the critics. Having read both his stories and many of his essays on public issues and just plain ordinary reviews of business establishments in his hometown, I have never seen Card take the attitude that a business should be punished in order to silence its owner.

    If you can’t read or view a story by Card without thinking about your political disagreement with him, if you cannot tolerate disagreement and dissent, and cannot judge a story or a movie on its own merits, then I think you have retrogressed into an era of political censorship, like the blacklisting of actors who were suspected of communist sympathies back in the 1950s.

    The message I get from those calling for this boycott is that they have partisan motives, advocating for the silencing of everyone else, rather than promoting any neutral and equitable principle of mutual tolerance of differences and disagreements that is essential for civilization in the midst of a diverse population.

  9. So now a proposed boycott of ‘Ender’s Game’ is an ‘expression of hatred’? Please. Card has clearly said that homosexuals should be imprisoned, and not treated as equal members of society, and that a government that extends equal protection under the law to homosexuals is his ‘enemy’ which he will work to destroy. A boycott of his movie pales in comparison to that extremism, and no homosexual citizen or their supporters should feel any obligation to further support his work and his contributions to NOM. Card has already been paid as have most of those who made the movie. A boycott will only give doubt to future producers about producing more of his work.

    Card can say whatever he wants. No one has to support his work–its called the free market.

    RTS plea for ‘mutual tolerance’ is ridiculous on its face. How tolerant is Card of homosexuals having equal protection under the law? How tolerant is expressing a desire to overthrow the government of the US? How tolerant is Card’s view that homosexuals should be imprisoned?

    When homosexuals call for Card to be imprisoned, then you might have an argument. Until then, this is ridiculous whining.

  10. Let me put it this simply: Card gets a cut of profits from the film as royalties. Card uses his money to further laws that institutionalize discrimination. I do not want to give any of my money to anyone who will do that with it. I will not be seeing this film.

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