If you’re white, straight and male you’ve probably never stopped to think about diversity in genre entertainment; but if you don’t fit into that very specific box it can be a very important subject indeed. Peter MacKenzie examines representation and depiction of alternative cultures in geek entertainment, highlighting when it goes right and explaining why it’s a problem when it goes wrong…
Confession time. This is the first year where I’ve taken much of an interest in the San Diego Comic-Con. In the past, I’ve not quite seen the point, knowing it only as the sort of Holy Grail of conventions.
The convention circuit is a scene I’m not really into at the best of times, although I was at Star Wars Celebration Europe a few years ago to pick up two of every event-exclusive figure so I can make £3.50 on eBay in 10 years’ time.
I was also at last year’s Star Trek Destination London but, frankly, if I had the money for a mortgage I’d, you know, get a mortgage, not Leonard Nimoy’s stunt double’s make-up lady’s dog groomer’s autograph on a badly photo-shopped picture of a tribble in Zachary Quinto’s lap.
Having said that, I must tell the story of how Jeffrey Combs nearly had me in floods of tears.
The tickets for Destination London were a wedding gift – we, along with every other gay couple in Christendom call our “Civil Partnership Ceremony” that, mostly just for shorthand and regardless of the legal definitions– from my best (wo)man Sam (or “Best Sam” as she designated herself) but, as the weekend rolled around, my partner’s heart condition was acting up and he had to bow out.
He’s a big fan of David Warner, ever since seeing him in Time after Time and Tron as a young lad, so I vowed to myself that I would get Warner’s autograph for him.
I caught him at just the right time – there wasn‘t much of a queue – so instead of the usual “It’s for Pe…, thanks” culmination of an autograph queue, I got a chance to tell my tale.
And suddenly I found myself using the word “husband” in relation to the other half to another person. For the very first time*. To David Fricking Warner.
My inner fanboy had found a new level of geekgasm.
And he smiled, rattled off a couple of pleasantries, hoped my husband got better soon and sat back for a quick smartphone photo. No hesitation, no double take, no intake of breath… just as you’d expect from a seasoned actor, who’s no doubt been there, done that and got the theatre programme.
He signed the photo I had of him as Chancellor Gorkon to Dan. A tiny part of me was disappointed that he signed off with Qapla’** and not tugh bIpIvchoHjaj*** but I suppose I can see the tortured synonymity.
As I left his table, I made my way to Jeffrey Combs’ table but the man was preparing to go to lunch with a couple of companions. Ever the gentleman, he nevertheless took my photo of him as Weyoun and asked who to sign it to.
I briefly told him my story about the sick husband and, once again to my slight but still undeserved surprise, there was no lessening of the grin, no diphthong in his speech, no raised eyebrow.
Unfortunately, I guess, I’m too used to the reactions. I see them all the time – not the recoil of disgust or drawing of weapons, but the catches, the eye twitches and nervous swallows, the ones that say…
And how was your weekend…?
… your partner’s a bloke? Wow. You know, I love the fact I know you, I fully support your drive for equality, your partner must be just awesome and your Christmas parties are the stuff of legend… but let’s be honest, I’m not going to meet many of your ilk in my local Spar and it would be uncomfortable if we got stuck in a lift…
… Yeah, ours was quiet too.
It was really heart-warming to not see that on the faces of these two legends. I know from experience that the geek community in general is more accepting, more, dare I say it, forward-thinking but it isn’t always.
So, anyway, Mr Combs signed the glossy, chatted for quite a while, posed for more photos, asked a bystander to take one of the two of us and made me well up inside as I remembered this guy was postponing his lunch for me, the beardy, fat geek with the sick husband.
Which is why I’ve taken notice of this year’s Comic-Con. In a year when the biggest news should have been the Superman/Batman cinematic crossover, or the trailer for Doctor Who’s Fiftieth (yes, Mr Moffat, did you think we wouldn’t notice that the colonies got it first?) or the screening of the pilot of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., it was a small announcement about a film that wasn’t exactly top of anyone’s radar that garnered most column inches.
Ender’s Game is a novel by Orson Scott Card, written back in the 80s and based on his own short story. I’ve never read it in either form. Partly because I’ve just never got round to it. Partly because the storyline, as I understand it, is extremely derivative of other (and apparently better) treatises of similar subject matter.
And partly because the man has some rather outdated conservative opinions.
I was hugely disappointed when I first read of his views a few years ago. Although I’d never read any of his books at the time, I did know him as one of the “top” science fiction writers, whose volume of work should have at least been on my “To Try and Read” list.
Here was a man, at the top of his game in a field where equality, in allegory at least, is generally supported and encouraged, whether in those optimistic, utopian worlds of fiction we devour, or in the real world of the outcast geek with the Doctor Who backpack.
And yet he has written long and large about his opposition to homosexuality in general, and marriage equality in particular.
He was an opponent in the late 80s and early 90s of relaxing homophobic laws and he is on record as stating how uncomfortable he was with his gay peers at college.
He has gone on to equate homosexuality with rape, molestation, incest and, yes, that old chestnut, paedophilia.
He seems to have a real fear of what “homosexual marriage” will do to his own marriage and espouses the tiredly familiar but preposterous idea that all peoples on this planet from the beginning of time, regardless of ideology, faith and contact from other cultures, have had a strictly Abrahamic Victorian definition of “marriage”.
This is all public record, and I’m not going to get on my high horse about someone else’s opinions. He’s entitled to them and we’re not living in some Orwellian nightmare thought police state.
On the other hand… this is all public record, and I’m a damn sight more disappointed in the people who thought they’d get away with associating themselves with this odious little man by making a film based on his novel.
You can’t blame the lower ranks – the dollies, the runners, the assistants – any more than you can blame the construction crews on the Death Star, or the Stagecoach drivers under Brian Soutar. Everyone needs a wage.
But I do wonder about the likes of Harrison Ford, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman. I’m sure the once and future Han Solo need never work again if he didn’t want to and the Orci/Kurtzman gestalt entity couldn’t be nearer the top of its game, so their excuses and justifications rang a little hollow to me.
For example, I find it really hard to believe that someone of Orci’s calibre can claim that he wasn’t aware of Card’s views.
Obviously, all of them have acknowledged the issue and, in Mr Ford’s own words – “I think we all know that we have all won [the “battle” for gay marriage], that humanity has won, and I think that’s the end of the story” – so it’s nice to know which side he was on.
But they have also tried to claim that Card’s views have nothing to do with this particular story and his opinions are, therefore, moot. To which I’d just like to quote the man himself – “[I] will continue as I have in the past, to attempt to discover the truth of every aspect of human life and then to tell what truth I believe I have found, as best I can, in both my fiction and my nonfiction.”
So, should you shun this film?
Well, don’t do so on my account. I’d never ask you to avoid a film that you may enjoy, just the same as I would tell you where to go if you suggested I avoid, say, a Kevin Smith film because he’s pro-gay. People still watch films by Disney, Roman Polanski and Mel Gibson after all.
There are calls for a boycott, but I’m not going to sit here preaching about what you should and shouldn’t do. I won’t be watching it for obvious reasons, but your position is not up to me. And it never should be.
What I can do, however, is to raise your awareness of where your money is going.
I’ve no doubt that I’ve donated more than I would want to the Church of Scientology over the years, but I do so with full knowledge of its influence in Hollywood.
However, that is completely different to not knowing that, say, the Westboro Baptist Church ploughed money into, say, This Is The End. I hasten to add, it didn’t (as far as I know), but wouldn’t you feel slightly aggrieved if it had been the case?
So, whether you watch it, or not, please take at least a little time to think about the pedigree of Ender’s Game. Consider not going, possibly even donating the ticket price to an anti-bullying charity like Ben Cohen’s StandUp Foundation or the Sophie Lancaster Foundation.
And that’s all I can ask.
*At our actual wedding, I began my speech with the traditional “My wife and I…" to much hilarity. That’ll teach him to let me go first.
***Get well soon