District 9 is an alien movie written by Neil Blomkamp and produced by Peter Jackson. It is a film that has received criticism both positive and negative. The film is inspired by real events as they happened during the apartheid years in South Africa, the clearing out of a ghetto, events that the film's director and writer lived through. The film is therefore expected to be strongly linked to apartheid. But as you watch this movie, you come to a realization that the relation of the movie to apartheid is very strange. In the whole film apartheid is not mentioned. The movie takes place in South Africa, a world that is more or less the same as any other place in the world except that there is a huge spaceship floating over Johannesburg filled with grasshopper like aliens. Despite the fact that the movie is set in a post-apartheid South Africa, a place full with class and race strife, it does not mention apartheid. Instead the film dwells more on very serious and offensive stereotypes. This why it has received much criticism and reviews, and that is what this paper is going to look at in detail (Minow N. p 1).
The implications made about the native Africans or Blacks by this movie may not be seen by many viewers, but when the movie is thoroughly scrutinized, there are some disturbing analogies that appear. The allegory on apartheid is presented in an exploitative, irresponsible, and highly problematic manner. In particular this movie contains colonial tropes which are very unethical to the supposed massage of the movie which should be against segregation, apartheid, and racism. Racial implications are even depicted in dialogues, for instance a genuine colonial style dialogue is heard earlier on in the movie where we see Wiku speaking to his black subordinate, Thomas. He wishes the large and silent black man "good luck". This shows him as the authoritative figure and the common man's voice. Again at some point in the movie when Wiku is performing an abortion by destroying the breeding facility for the prawns, he gives Thomas a souvenir for his first successful abortion, so that he could feel like he had actually done something, he even replies, "yes boss" (Minow N. p 1).
As it has been mentioned, the movie starts with aliens coming to Africa instead of America as we have grown up knowing. The aliens land and are held in a refugee camp where they live with a group of people who operate as slumlords, ruling with crime and violence and at the same time making profits out of the situation. The aliens in the film are depicted as being loathsome, vermin who eat trash and fight endlessly destroying property for no apparent reason; they even piss on their own homes. This is not true when compared to the actual black South African during the apartheid era. Apartheid as we know it was terrible, humans were denied their rights, but the apartheid portrayed in the film is not at all terrible. This type of apartheid is justified, because the aliens are shown as being dangerous, destructive and violent. It would have been better if the aliens were not unpleasant as they are shown, if they were kind and peaceful but humans demonize them, it would have been man's inhumanity against the aliens (Stamp p1).
There is therefore no doubt that the film failed to bring out the apartheid aspect as people especially South Africans would have wished it to be. The changing of the nature of aliens as it has been done here, changes the movie to something else altogether. There was nothing wrong with making the aliens look disgusting as this was a pretty good design that makes the film more gritty and scary. The writer and producer did a fine job with the plot; we see the majority who are humans herding the alien race who are minorities into a ghetto. Even at the some point the human protagonist gets to understand and know one of the aliens empathizes with him and therefore goes out of his way to try to help him. Here we see that the hero, who is human, comes to a realization that the aliens are an unlucky species, who just want a home, a place of safety just like the humans (Stamp p1).
All that is fine, but the bone of contention comes in where the movie shows a bunch of Nigerian refugee gangsters living in District 9. This group traffic weapons and food with the aliens. This is where I think the movie becomes racist; it portrays black people as mobsters. It shows Nigerian gangsters as being blood thirsty, dishonest thugs, which is not bad after all they are thugs. These thugs see aliens as insects but having money, there they see no point of treating them well. They are therefore just cruel, mercenaries who are self interested, this does not make them any different from the film's government officials, mostly whites, who torture and murder the aliens in cold blood. This does not show any racism but just characters in the movie with different motivations. This is very strange especially when it is considered that the movie is based on a country that was just liberated from apartheid some fifteen years ago, a country in which 80% of the population is black. In the movie, the whites, whether as journalists, physicians, talking head experts, leaders, or even bad guys, are painted as distinct figures; they are portrayed as a faceless mass. It goes further to the extent that we have evil whites, who are in fact very many in this movie; their whiteness is taken to be just incidental to their evilness. What this means is that their complexion does nothing to their brutality especially the speciesist soldiers or sadistic scientists who are placed in secret government labs. But when it comes to the black characters, the few black bureaucrats are given just few lines with no action. The blacks with any consequence are depicted as superstitious, and vicious. Even the way blacks and whites die in the film shows some bias. When the gang leader is eventually killed by an alien Robocop, style machine, his death is idiosyncratic and also lovingly done; where by an alien drill is forced into his forehead, his body exploding in the process. This makes the audience laugh, but when you look at the instance when the equally brutal leader of the white mercenaries dies in the hands of a group of aliens, the audience only sees his death at a distance, through the inevitable lens of primitive tragedy (Chinedu p1).
The whole movie was supposed to show racism between humans and the aliens, a point that it has failed to bring out; instead the movie turns out to be more racist by portraying aliens in a very bad light when in reality they are supposed to be an analogy for the South African blacks. Among the aliens it is only Christopher who the movie paints in a good light. He is seen as an alien who just wants to get home and provide protection to his son. He comes out as intelligent when compared to the other aliens. The audience is therefore supposed to side with him, feel empathetic to the decisions he has to make. This is just one exception in the whole movie. When it comes to the humans in the movie, all the main people, the important persons in the movie, are whites, who are part of a private military company. The Nigerians, as I have already shown, are the main black people in the movie, they are the major antagonists, and they are shown as cruel, thugs who are obsessed with the alien technology. They even go to the extent of eating pieces of the aliens in the hope that they will get some of the alien powers. This is not at all a friendly portrayal, why just black, and why Nigerians and not whites (Chinedu p1).
In the movie there is also the idea of being of a mixed race. Wikus, who is the protagonist, becomes infected with the technology of aliens and starts changing into an alien. He is there treated as not being human, sub-human, he is even medically tested. We that he is only valued for ability to operate and run the alien technology. When he escapes he becomes a target, he is hunted for his powers, and he is therefore not human and not alien. This in itself brings out the aspect of mixed race, that those who are of mixed race are viewed differently from others. This is what this movie just shows, it is racist, discriminatory. There is no dispute that this movie would have been much better on many aspects if the aliens had been portrayed as more sophisticated, and less violent. The whites, who are actually the producers of this movie, have just brought out the stereotypes they hold on the different people, and especially on Africans. It shows black Africans as degenerate savages who will do anything, like having sex with nonhumans, and even eats people. What hurt most especially to the Nigerians is that the names of one of the gang members, actually the gang leader, nearly resembled that of Nigeria's former president (Parabasis p1).
The blacks in the film are treated as superstitious monsters, sadistic, and criminals, whereas the whites are treated in a differentiated way. The movie shows that though whites may be savages, the source of their savagery could not be any different. That blacks are savages by nature, just as we are led to believe that the aliens are scavengers and naturally hot-headed, while the whites are savages by accident, by associating with the militarized nation state, it is therefore not surprising to find that at the end, the half-bread white, who was injected with the alien genes, saves the day by helping the aliens, while the black leader is blown up into ashes (Parabasis p1).
It seems that Peter Jackson has not yet learned any lesson from his movies that include among other King Kong. District nine should be his best lesson because he seems to be a perpetual repeat offender. He has shown through this movie that he is insensitive to the problematic implications that his movies may make. This is just a continuation of the long history of repeated colonialist rhetoric, and if today's society wishes to move past its transgressions that happened during the colonial era, it should be put the painfully backward depictions of Africans and Africa as a whole behind it. If District 9 had depicted the prawns as equal beings as humans who they were forced to stay in the same place, it would have been a better movie. Even portrayal of all the parties including the Nigerians would have avoided all these controversies.