Yesterday, upon the stair,
I met a man who wasn't there.
He wasn't there again today,
I wish, I wish he'd go away
Hughes Mearns, 1922
The folks at Summit Entertainment, the studio releasing the expensive science-fiction epic "Ender's Game" today, have been seeing such a man in their nightmares.
His name is Orson Scott Card.
Card, who wrote the novel "Ender's Game" back in 1985, has been absent from most of Summit's pre-release publicity efforts. He wasn't with the stars and filmmakers who appeared at Comic Con in San Diego this summer. And he was a no-show at the film's Hollywood premiere Monday.
Summit and its parent company, Lionsgate, are distancing the movie from the guy who invented its characters because of Card's other writings namely, his views against gay marriage and homosexuality.
Card, a devout Mormon who attended Brigham Young University (and, until 2011, was a sometime contributor to the Deseret News), has written that many homosexuals became gay "through a disturbing seduction or rape or molestation or abuse." He once dubbed gay marriage "an act of intolerance" against people like him, and then (this year, after the Supreme Court overturned California's Prop. 8) hypocritically begged for tolerance from the LGBT community. (Salon.com compiled a sampler of Card's anti-gay writings in May, if you want to wade in deeper.)
Those views have enraged the LGBT community. One group, called Geeks Out, urged a boycott of the movie "Ender's Game" to prevent Card from earning any additional royalties. Others, such as the Oscar-winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, opposed the boycott and instead urged constructive dialogue.
Card, in response, is painting himself as victim. In an interview to air this Sunday on KSL Ch. 5, he claims his detractors are the ones engaging in "character assassination."
"I've had no criticism," Card said. "I've had savage, lying, deceptive personal attacks, but no actual criticism because they've never addressed any of my actual ideas."
The makers of the "Ender's Game" movie have also put space between themselves and Card. At Monday's premiere, reports Entertainment Weekly, the film's director and screenwriter, Gavin Hood, took pains to differentiate between the book's themes and the author's views.
"The book is a fantastic book full of wonderful themes like compassion and tolerance, and I am distressed by Orson's position on gay marriage," Hood said.
And herein lies the quandary that "Ender's Game" and many masterpieces raise: How do you reconcile the gap between art and the artist?
The history of art is littered with examples of great art produced by artists whose personal lives or political views were deemed less than noble.
"The reality is that art has often risen to greater heights than the people who created it," Hood said at Monday's premiere, according to Entertainment Weekly. "Many flawed artists have created great works of art."
In many cases, personal failings overshadow an artist's work. Roman Polanski has created some of the most moving films of this generation, including "Rosemary's Baby," "Chinatown" and "The Pianist" but his name is also a punchline for sexual deviancy after the infamous 1977 case in which he was charged with sexually assaulting a 13-year-old girl.
Michael Jackson's success as a pop superstar had for years become secondary in the news accounts of his bizarre personal life and, ultimately, to charges of improper behavior with young boys. Only after Jackson's death, when the creepy reality of the man himself was gone, did music critics reconsider his musical legacy.
There are cases where the artist and the art are harder to separate. If Ernest Hemingway had not lived his life of adventure, complete with alcoholic binges and multiple marriages, it's unlikely he would have created the robust body of writing that he did. And scholars have long debated how much D.W. Griffith's Kentucky upbringing (his father was a colonel in the Confederate Army) influenced his depiction of pre-Civil War slavery in "The Birth of a Nation."
Ultimately, it will be the viewer's choice whether to embrace the tolerance message of "Ender's Game" or reject the film. Each viewer must decide, as with any artwork, whether to judge only what's inside the frame or what's outside the frame as well.
Sean P. Means writes The Cricket in daily blog form at www.sltrib.com/blogs/moviecricket. Follow him on Twitter @moviecricket, or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/seanpmeans. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Art and the artist
Orson Scott Card, the "Ender's Game" novelist who has been criticized for his anti-gay writings, isn't the only example of an artist whose artwork was at odds with his or her personal beliefs or behavior. Here are some examples:
The art • Some of the most towering operas in the classical canon, especially the "Ring" cycle whose themes have been repeated as widely as "Apocalypse Now" and Bugs Bunny.
The artist • Scholars argue about whether Wagner's writings, and some of his stereotyped characters, reveal his anti-Semitism. There's also the unsettling fact that one of Wagner's biggest fans, years after the composer's death, was Adolf Hitler.
The art • Intense film dramas focusing on moral decay, including "Repulsion" (1965), "Rosemary's Baby" (1968), "Chinatown" (1974) and "The Pianist" (2002), for which he won a directing Oscar.
The artist • Accused in 1977 of sexually assaulting a 13-year-old girl, Polanski fled the United States after a judge threatened to rescind a plea bargain. He remains a fugitive from the United States.
The art • Revolutionized early cinema by directing the first true feature-length blockbuster, "The Birth of a Nation," in 1915.
The artist • The baldly racist themes of "The Birth of a Nation," and its sympathetic portrayal of the Ku Klux Klan, have made the movie virtually unwatchable today outside a scholarly setting.
The art • His massive abstract works, in which he dripped and splattered paint on the canvases, changed ideas about painting in the late 20th century.
The artist • Long battles with alcohol, culminating in a car crash in which he and a female passenger were killed. (Another passenger, Pollock's mistress, survived.)
The art • Some of the biggest-selling albums ever, notably "Thriller" (1982) and "Bad" (1987), chart-busting singles and pioneering music videos that broke MTV's color barrier.
The artist • Years of bizarre behavior, both real and rumored, ranging from massive plastic surgery to having a chimp for a friend culminating in recurring accusations, none of them proven in court, of child sexual abuse.