Earlier this month, film Production Company Lionsgate released a statement pertaining to their upcoming late summer tent-pole sci-fi Ender’s Game. This statement was an explicit reaction to some of the flack that release has attracted on account of the book’s author – Orson Scott Card – being, well basically, a horrible bigot. For many years, Orson Scott Card has been a vocal dissident of homosexual union in USA. Lionsgate – obviously wishing not to ostracise this potential audience, along with seemingly being a company made up of halfway decent human beings – have attempted to distance themselves from the author’s views. In their release they state that ‘the simple fact is that neither the underlying book nor the film itself reflect [Scott Card’s] views in any way, shape or form’, going on to state that they look to hold a ‘benefit premiere’ of the film. Yet despite this, several would-be audience members have expressed a desire to boycott the film’s cinematic release. The most prevalent of these being a request by Geeks OUT (an online community of queer genre enthusiasts) asking fans to skip Ender’s Game and refuse Scott Card their ‘financial support’.
Disregarding questions of when and how finances are moved about with book-to-film adaptations (surely Card was already paid when the rights were acquired?), we are still left with the interesting question of audience engagement with art: whether we should apply our personal knowledge of its creation to our experience of it. Personally, I find it very hard to enjoy Mel Gibson onscreen after hearing his racist, misogynistic outbursts of the past years. This even taints performances in films I previously enjoyed; Riggs craziness in Lethal Weapon certainly seeming a lot less endearing now. But is this fair? In the world of cinema, one of the most collaborative art forms (just try and count all the folk involved in a major release), can the ideology of one individual really be expected to thrive, especially if that ideology is a wrong-headed as Scott Card’s?
Another example, which may be more apt, is that of the 2000 film American Psycho, a critically lauded adaptation of Brett Easton Ellis’ novel of the same name. Both the film and the book follow the extreme exploits of the deranged 1980s Wall Street ‘yuppie’ Patrick Bateman; a corporate maniac driven purely by the base instincts of sex, violence and vain perfectionism. Despite the novel’s overt satirical edge, Easton Ellis has been known to display traits that are not entirely un-Bateman-like. In the film adaptation, however, Easton Ellis’ questionable views of women, his glorification of the most sickening and abhorrent parts of the American male psyche, are turned on their head through the camera lens of female director Mary Harron. Holding a mirror up to the male gaze, she presents a stomach-churning depiction of masculinity that could arguably only be captured by a woman, perverting many of the novel’s themes back in on themselves.
Lionsgate have explicitly stated that Ender’s Game does not carry any of the anti-homosexual sentiments that Scott-Card expresses. However, Harron’s effort shows it would be possible for an adaptation of his work to subtly contort these views, reaching a wider audience with a very different message. After all, isn’t this a more positive approach? Rather than simply negating the work, take a more pro-active road. If Lionsgate say that they are going to host a ‘benefit premiere’, work with them on this; ensure that the money goes to the correct causes and that the correct message is put out there.
Fortunately, Scott Card does not own the entirety of Ender’s Game, only the narrative. In our poststructuralist age of repetition, recycling and reimagining, we can recondition his work into the artwork we want –repackage it within the ideology we want. It seems that the knee-jerk reaction will always be something of an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ one, but this approach is not always the best. There is a long history of great art coming from terrible people, why should our enjoyment be crippled by the negative actions of the creators? Art exists in the moment of performance, the engagement between the audience and the piece. Knowledge of authorship may entangle this, weigh it down with the burdens of context, but this is not the concern of the audience member. You should not be pressured into skipping Ender’s Game, if you wish to enjoy a piece of cinema that is entirely your choice. The best possible outcome is one in which not only do we get a great sci-fi blockbuster, but also this whole furore helping to raise awareness of the issues concerned, and perhaps generate something towards the correct cause.