Space is for (Almost) Everybody: Thoughts on Ender’s Game

enders game posterThis isn’t a film review, because I don’t watch films and sit in the back of the theater with a pad of paper and write snappy lines for my blog.  I don’t know the screenwriters’ names, and usually refer to directors by the string of keywords that will prompt my boyfriend to fill in the blank for me (Lots of Blood Guy, Irony and Bill Murray, I See Dead People, Bellatrix Lestrange is Always There, etc.).  I watch movies, and eat popcorn and wait with greasy-faced excitement for something amazing to happen.

So this isn’t a review of Ender’s Game.  My review would look like this: Dude that was pretty awesome.  Like, you should go see it.  Even if you didn’t read the book, because Harrison Ford is back in space, where he belongs, and Viola Davis uses magic to make him into a good actor.  Even the kids are good damn actors, which is almost irritating—like where were you all when Harry Potter was being cast?  So, instead, this is a brief reflection on the way Ender’s Game interacts with the problems of diversity and race in the science fiction genre.[1]

Perhaps because race is so visually experienced, and so frequently built into spectacle, the appearance or absence of people of color in movies has always struck me as especially powerful.  Where diversity is omitted, white viewers are free to construct a happily race-free world where everyone speaks the same language and understands the same rules.  Where there are characters of color, they tend to feed our stereotypical constructions rather than represent a realistic vision of our world.  Characters like the black thug, the Hispanic maid, the Asian nerd, or the wise-and-weirdly-genial old black man who sweeps the stadium and offers folksy advice to the white protagonist, are just not real people.  And they’re not real diversity.

Science fiction films have been equally guilty of these crimes (particularly omission) but they’ve also invented a few of their very own.  There’s the strategy of making aliens that are actually blue-painted stand-ins for other races, the unlikely existence of aliens who fulfill black stereotypes, and the simplistic imagining of a future where race is so last-century and totally not a big deal.  Even as writers like Butler, Delany, and LeGuin began to bend the racialized rules of science fiction, it simply did not penetrate the mass of mainstream science fiction film.  (And, please, nobody remind me that TV’s first interracial kiss happened on Star Trek.  Kirk kissed pretty much everything that moved, but he had to be under some kind of creepy alien power to be forced to kiss Uhura, so I’m officially not impressed).

In a hundred ways, Ender’s Game failed to break that mainstream mold.  Ender himself is a middle-class-ish white male from Boringsville, America.  Hey, Orson, what are the statistical chances that the most brilliant military leader in the world would be born into the ruling class?  Fun fact: Less that 2% of the world’s population is white, American, and male.[2]  And then there’s Harrison Ford playing the gruff authority, with Viola Davis left to cry womanly tears about Ender’s wellbeing.  And then there’s Ben Kingsley, The Man of Many Races, cast as an indigenous Australian.  Even in the global future, white males are still firmly in control.

Ender's Game CastIn one place, though, Ender’s Game succeeds, and it deserves to be mentioned.  Battle School is one of the most realistically diverse populations that I’ve seen.  Those kids—sick, violent, and damaged—are visibly multicultural.  That’s not nothing.  Dink, Bean, Bonzo, and Alai are important, and they help to carve out a little extra room for young nerds who don’t happen to be in the magical 2%.  Readers of the series will know that Bean is especially important.  Maybe in the future, more sci-fi movies will let characters like Bean out of Ender’s shadow.[3]


[1] This is also not a discussion of Orson Scott Card: The Man, the Monster, and the Gross Things he Thinks, because lots of people have that covered.  This is also not a book review, because everyone’s already read it, and if you haven’t you should go do it right now.

[2] I DID MATH FOR THAT PART. 6 billion people in the world, 223,000,000 white people in the U.S., divided in half to get white males.

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One comment

  1. As always I enjoy hearing your thoughts on the world’s peculiar combination of awesomeness and asshat-ery. I really want to see Enders Game. It’s one of my favorite books.

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