The film science fiction film Ender’s Game, starring Ben Kingsley, Harrison Ford, Abigail Breslin, and Asa Butterfield, is set for release in November. It’s about a strategically brilliant child (Butterfield) who is chosen to lead an international army to fight an alien race that attacks Earth. The story itself isn’t the most compelling part of Ender’s Game to me; rather, I’m curious if the film will match the $110 million budget used to create it, particularly since there’s an enormous campaign called Skip Ender’s Game that encourages people to boycott it.
You see, Ender’s Game is based on a 1984 novel of the same name by Orson Scott Card, a former board member of the National Organization for Marriage which actively works against the legalization of same-sex marriage in the U.S. Card has called homosexuality a “disfunction” and has said that “many people become gay because of rape, molestation or abuse.” According to Jono Jarrett of the online LGBT geek organization Geek’s OUT!, Card actively funds “kill-the-gays” bills in developing nations around the globe. Further, Card wrote a sort of manifesto in the 1990s which called for the recriminalization of homosexuality and instead an instatement of sexual rules that all citizens need to follow, which include a strict adherence to traditional gender roles.
In the interview with CBC’s radio show Q (you can listen to the podcast here), Jarrett makes clear that Card is not simply writing in his diary nor having private conversation, but financially active in the (sometimes violent) oppression of gay rights. Jarrett also notes that Lionsgate will be paying Card for the film’s profits, as he is both the author of the book and a producer for the film. So, Jarrett reasons, people should refuse to give Lionsgate and Ender’s Game their money, as it puts financial aid in the hands of a man who exploits the rights of queer people.
The Skip Ender’s Game movement–founded by Jarrett and Geeks OUT!–has garnered criticism of its own, especially from those who argue that it is necessary to separate the film from its creator. The gay rights advocacy group GLAAD has reviewed the screenplay, and found no language or material that contributes to anti-LGBT rhetoric.
Plus, the author is dead, isn’t he? That’s what we’ve been told, after all. Roland Barthes, one of my favorite literary critics, published an essay called the “The Death of the Author” in 1968. He wrote that to consider the author’s intention of the text and thus impose a single, corresponding interpretation imposes a limit for analysis upon that text. The joy of reading the text (in this case, the film Ender’s Game) is the play of meaning that comes form numerous interpretations. Indeed, people who have responded to the Skip Ender’s Game campaign argue that potential viewers should not punish the film, or the art, for its creator’s bigoted perspective. It follows that there should be a separation between art and artist, especially when the art is good.
I certainly cannot comment on whether the film Ender’s Game is any good, as it hasn’t yet been released and it has received no critical response. Regardless, Jarrett seems frustrated at this “separate art from artist to justify seeing the film” argument. In the Q interview, he said that given the choice between punishing art or punishing the real people and their right to have legitimate relationships with one another through marriage (or, in other nations, simply to live as a gay or transgender person without being beaten or killed), there is no question. Human rights, implies Jarrett, are more important than art.
Moreover, he clarifies that the Skip Ender’s Game campaign has no problem with the content of the film itself. The issue at hand is heaps of cash that Card has the potential to earn from the film’s success. Jarrett said that “if [Card] were giving tickets away for free, we might drive the bus to the theaters ourselves.” If any die-hard fans have been waiting their whole life, Jarrett suggests that they wait until the film is on cable, Netflix, or available to check out for free at their local library. That way, Card does not receive any money to help promote his warped and narrow-minded goals.
The financial territory of art (whether it be a blockbuster sci-fi flick like Ender’s Game or a novel in classic literature) should be taken into account in literary or artistic criticism. The material relations that construct and distribute art are hugely significant in the conversation concerning art and politics; what humans do we exploit in order to consume and witness art? Is there any validity in an argument that maintains art over human rights? How does the manufacturing of art contribute to the encompassing discourse of art for art’s sake?
I heard this story on the radio one day a couple of weeks ago on a Missouri-hot day (trust me, that’s hot) as I drove around in my car with broken AC and desperately looking for an apartment. Since then, I’ve found my own place (AC is still broken), but I still feel unnerved when I remember this story. It’s made me realize that sometimes the author and his or her work should be considered two connected entities–perhaps not by way of interpretation, but definitely in terms of the material and financial benefit. So, from my perspective, the relationship between politics and art just got a bit more complicated. Brilliant!