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Ender's Headache

The upcoming sci-fi epic ”Ender’s Game” is suddenly in a pickle: The novel it’s based on was written in 1985 by Orson Scott Card, whose antigay statements have sparked talk of a boycott

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In an alternate universe of the kind he might envision in his novels, Orson Scott Card would be at the forefront of publicity for the sci-fi saga Ender’s Game (out Nov. 1). A living legend among authors in the genre, Card, 61, wrote the novel on which the film is based, the story of a sensitive wunderkind tapped to lead humankind’s last stand against an insectlike race of aliens. The book has sold millions of copies since its publication in 1985 and is regarded as a classic, particularly by people inclined to, say, make a pilgrimage to Comic-Con dressed as stormtroopers and superheroes. Yet you won’t see Card promoting the movie at this year’s Comic-Con — or anywhere else, for that matter. The studio behind the $110 million production, Lionsgate, is doing everything it can to distance the film from the author who dreamed up the story in the first place.

Over the years, Card has drawn increasingly intense criticism for his long-held personal beliefs — in particular, his views on homosexuality and his opposition to gay marriage. As public awareness of the Ender’s Game movie has grown, the controversy surrounding the author has reached a crescendo. Earlier this month, a small online group called Geeks OUT even called for a national boycott of the film. ”We’re dismayed by the statements Orson Scott Card has repeatedly made against the LGBT community and marriage equality,” says Geeks OUT board member Patrick Yacco. ”We feel that [a boycott] is the best way to send the message that we don’t agree with what he’s saying.”

In a statement to EW last week, Card declared the debate on the issue of gay marriage ”moot” given last month’s Supreme Court rulings upholding the rights of states to legalize same-sex marriage. ”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 added. Days later, he quietly stepped down from the board of the National Organization for Marriage, a group devoted to battling same-sex marriage, which he had joined in 2009.

These gestures did little to silence his critics. With negative publicity mounting, Lionsgate quickly issued its own statement: ”We obviously do not agree with the personal views of Orson Scott Card…. The simple fact is that neither the underlying book nor the film itself reflect [his] views in any way, shape or form.”

Asked to clarify his position, Card — writing from Switzerland, where he was sitting on the jury of a film festival — demurred. ”I’m not sure I’d have anything to add on the matter beyond correcting the record,” he wrote via email. ”I have no interest in going back to flog dead political issues. Both my fiction and my life demonstrate who and what I am.”

The third of six children, Card was raised in California, Arizona, and Utah as a devout Mormon. He attended Brigham Young University, where he began writing poetry, plays, and fiction, and served as a missionary for the Mormon church in Brazil. In 1977, Card published a short story called ”Ender’s Game,” set at a school in space that trains kids to fight aliens. Eight years later, he fleshed out that story into a novel. ”I didn’t recognize at first that the book was going to be so amazingly important,” says Card’s editor, Beth Meacham, who has worked with him since the early ’80s. ”But it sold very well at the beginning, and it kept right on selling and selling and selling more every year.”

Card has written dozens of novels, including a number of sequels and spin-offs to the story of Ender Wiggin, and racked up every award the genre has to offer. ”He’s a brilliant writer,” says Meacham. ”He’s got a talent for telling stories that are simple on the surface but emotionally complex underneath. That’s never changed.”

While he was gaining fame in some quarters, Card was earning notoriety in others. In 1990, Card called for laws banning consensual homosexual acts to remain on the books, even if he did not believe they should be enforced. Why? ”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.” In 2000, he called gay rights ”a collective delusion.” In 2008, he warned that if judges acted without the consent of the people and redefined marriage, an uprising might follow: ”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.”

For years, controversy over those beliefs simmered online. Now, with the same-sex-marriage issue reaching a national tipping point — in a Bloomberg poll last month, 52 percent of Americans supported same-sex-marriage rights and 41 percent opposed them — that controversy has exploded into the mainstream. In March, facing a growing public outcry over Card’s views on gay marriage, DC Comics shelved a Superman comic he had co-written. Artist Chris Sprouse departed the project, saying in a statement, ”The media surrounding this story reached the point where it took away from the actual work, and that’s something I wasn’t comfortable with.” Sources tell EW there are no plans to move ahead with the project.

No one contends that Ender’s Game contains any antigay messages. Earlier this year, the studio submitted writer-director Gavin Hood’s script to the LGBT-rights advocacy group GLAAD, which found nothing objectionable. In spite of Card’s personal beliefs, there are themes in the novel that might hold particular resonance for gay youth. ”Ender’s Game speaks to the alienated child so strongly,” says Meacham, who declines to comment on any of Card’s personal views. ”Scott is all about the isolated, the child who needs to find their own specialness inside them and the world around them. If you look at any of the books, that is a recurring theme. And that’s what speaks so powerfully to his fans.”

Some argue that it’s unfair to hold the people behind the Ender’s Game movie accountable for the author’s beliefs. Producer Roberto Orci says he wasn’t even aware of Card’s politics when he joined the project. ”It didn’t occur to me to do background checks on anybody,” he says, arguing that the movie should be judged on its own merits. Another source close to the project adds, ”There are hundreds of artists and craftspeople, from the director and the producers on down, who all made this movie — most of whom are pro-gay.”

One friend and colleague of Card’s, sci-fi author Harlan Ellison, said in a recent NPR interview that while he personally considers Card’s opinions on gay issues ”anti-human and anti-peaceful,” Card alone should ”pay the price” for them. Ellison expressed dismay at the blowback he’s received for lending his voice to an upcoming spoken-word version of Ender’s Game: ”We’ve been getting hateful and out-of-line messages from tweeters and people on the Net saying…’Would you work for the Nazis? Would you work for the KKK?’ And I say, ‘You can think I’m stupid, but don’t talk to me like you think I’m stupid. I’m a smart cookie. What Scott Card believes is what Scott Card believes, and what I believe is something else entirely.”’

Though Card would not grant an interview for this article, he did steer EW toward some of his more ameliorative writings on the subject of gay marriage. ”We do not believe that homosexuals, by entering into a marriage, are personally hurting anybody,” he wrote in a 2008 Mormon Times essay. ”Where the law makes such a thing available, even temporarily, those who marry are not our enemies. We believe the law is wrong and the marriage is not, in any meaningful way, what we mean by marriage. But my family and I are perfectly able to deal with such couples socially and keep them as friends, as long as they show the same respect and understanding for our customs and beliefs as we show for theirs.”

With the film’s release still four months away, it’s unclear how many people will actually boycott Ender’s Game — or how powerful an effect such a protest would have on the film’s box office. Last year, activists attempted a widespread boycott against the fast-food chain Chick-fil-A following statements opposing gay marriage made by its president and COO. But the protest sparked a backlash among opponents of same-sex marriage. Sales for the chain climbed 14 percent in 2012.

Even if a large-scale boycott does materialize, it may not have much of an impact on Card, who has had minimal involvement with the film and was paid the bulk of his earnings up front. ”If you’ve actually done your homework, the movie isn’t where you hit him,” says a source involved in the film. ”Authors make most of their money from their books. So if you had an issue, why now? Where have you been the last 15 years? In the last several years, he has sold millions of books.”

Long after the Ender’s Game film has left theaters and the emotions of this controversy have died down, Card’s books will remain on library and bookstore shelves. Kids and adults who pick up Ender’s Game will find a tale that is at once inspiring and brutal and often nihilistic, filled with abstract ideas pitched at a level above what we normally expect in fiction widely read by middle schoolers. At one point in the novel, Ender Wiggin’s older brother, Peter, reflects on the power of language to influence the course of history. ”There are times when the world is rearranging itself,” he says, ”and at times like that, the right words can change the world.” The same, of course, could be said for the wrong ones.