A version of this story first appeared in the March 1 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
A controversy involving novelist Orson Scott Card and DC Comics could foreshadow problems for the big-budget adaptation of his classic 1985 sci-fi novel Ender’s Game, which is scheduled for release Nov. 1.
Card’s long record of opposition to same-sex marriage and gay rights came into sharp focus when DC Comics announced Feb. 6 that it had hired him to write a chapter of a new Superman anthology series. Card has been a prominent gay-rights opponent going back to the ‘90s. As the same-sex marriage debate has advanced in recent years, he has become more vocal in his views.
In 2009, he joined the board of directors of the right-leaning National Organization for Marriage, which has been at the forefront of opposing same-sex marriage laws. That same year, he penned an opinion piece for the Mormon Times in which he argued: “Marriage has only one definition, and any government that attempts to change it is my mortal enemy. I will act to destroy that government and bring it down." In another column last year, he called homosexuality a “reproductive dysfunction” born of choice.
Card’s appointment provoked a firestorm of controversy from LGBT activists and comic fans. Queerty called him a “rabid homophobe”; Allout.org, a social media-oriented LGBT activist group, drew more than 14,000 signatures to an online petition asking DC to fire Card; and at least one comics retailer said he would refuse to stock the comic when it was released May 29 (a digital edition will be released first on April 29).
A GLAAD spokesman tells THR: "Anti-gay activists like Card can't expect to spread the same hateful and dangerous rhetoric they once did without it negatively impacting how the public views them. As a board member of NOM, one of the most visible anti-gay organizations, Card is not merely a holder of anti-gay views but someone who has used his own fame and resources to actively make life more difficult for hardworking LGBT people and our families. He might still want the buying public to financially support his creative endeavors, but the public is responding with an affirmative ‘no.’ ”
DC Comics issued a statement calling Card’s opinions “personal views” that were not “those of the company itself,” but noting that the company nonetheless “steadfastly support[s] freedom of expression.”
The new scrutiny of Card’s views could be a problem for the $110 million Ender’s Game movie, which stars Asa Butterfield, Harrison Ford, Viola Davis and Ben Kingsley and is directed by Gavin Hood (X-Men Origins: Wolverine). Summit, whose parent Lionsgate made The Hunger Games, sees the film as the next big YA sci-fi franchise.
Summit shifted the movie’s release date from March to November to take advantage of the holiday box office. The move also opens the door for producers to "maximize the joint marketing opportunities" with the November 22 release of the Hunger Games sequel Catching Fire, according to Digital Domain CEO John Trextor, whose company put up 37.5 percent of the Ender's Game budget.
Now Summit faces the tricky task of figuring out how to handle Card’s involvement. The first big challenge will be whether to include him in July's San Diego Comic-Con program. Promoting Ender’s Game without Card would be like trying to promote the first Harry Potter movie without J.K. Rowling. But having Card appear in the main ballroom in front of 6,500 fans could prove a liability if he’s forced to tackle the issue head-on during the Q&A session.
“I don't think you take him to any fanboy event,” says one studio executive. “This will definitely take away from their creative and their property.” Another executive sums up the general consensus: “Keep him out of the limelight as much as possible.”
Ender’s insiders already are distancing themselves from the 61-year-old author. “Orson's politics are not reflective of the moviemakers,” says one person involved in the film. “We’re adapting a work, not a person. The work will stand on its own.”
Marvel faced a similar situation with writer James Gunn, when a sophomoric two-year-old blog post containing homophobic comments resurfaced after he was named to write Guardians of the Galaxy, the company’s next potential tentpole franchise. Gunn reacted swiftly, apologizing in a letter to GLAAD and citing his long record of support for gay rights. The controversy subsided, and Marvel kept Gunn on the project.
A similar strategy will be difficult for Card to pull off, since he can’t easily dismiss his long-held beliefs and considerable record of public statements as a one-time thing.
But Card is so identified with Ender’s Game that separating the two might prove difficult, especially given his role as one of the film’s producers. Such a tactic also runs the risk of alienating the book’s fans, whose enthusiasm is crucial to launching the movie with a strong opening weekend.
“This will be tricky for Summit,” a rival studio marketing chief sympathized.