Movie Review: District 9

I've been sitting on this for a while, partially because I had to sort out my feelings about this movie.  It's more than just being an almost perfect movie with one disappointment.  This is a severe flaw that has hurt, troubled, and offended a lot of people in the blogosphere, and who knows how many others viewing the film.  The Nigerians.  And they are called "the Nigerians" throughout the entire film.  Apparently after aliens landed in Johannesburg and were quarantined into a slum, a Nigerian gang traveled 3,000 miles to take their business to said slum and provide the aliens with human prostitutes and cat food (their food of choice) in exchange for their advanced weaponry.  Oh, and a witch doctor (who acts like every minstrel-y portrayal of a witch doctor that I've ever seen) tells the gang leader that if he wants to gain the powers that the aliens have (only the aliens can use their weapons), he must eat one of their arms.

Now, from a writers perspective, this doesn't even really make sense.  I mean, why not just kidnap or recruit an alien who will use the weapons for you?  They don't have anything else to do, why wouldn't they join a gang that will pay them in cat food?  Hell, they could take over the whole continent with an army of aliens...it just seemed like the point of including the Nigerian gang at all was just to make them look like savages.  Like the writer and director, Neil Blomkamp, needed villains other than the mostly white MNU organization, so we got evil Nigerians.  This wouldn't even be so bad if there were more Nigerians depicted in mainstream movies.  But I can't remember the last time I saw a movie that had a Nigerian character in it, which is why this is problematic.  Americans, Black or white, can't point Nigeria out on a map, so for this once in a blue moon depiction of Nigerians to be so negative is damaging.  And you can't even say that at least some Nigerian actors got their faces out there because the actors playing the Nigerians were South African!  From what I've read, South Africans and some other countries in Africa have a history of depicting Nigerians as greedy, corrupt, savage people, and I think that the writer of this film may have been tainted by his country's biases.

Some other people in the articles that I linked to had issues as well with the aliens = black people, humans = white people, apartheid relationship that the movie sets up.  Some wondered why the aliens were only shown being violent, stupid, nasty creatures, save for the one good one and his child who we're supposed to sympathize with.  I didn't really have a problem with that, because I think that we're supposed to see that they're only shown that way in the documentary on the aliens shown at the beginning of the movie.  The media depicts the aliens a certain way, the same way that the media here in America mostly focuses on crime, sex, drugs, and violence in the Black community.  But, I do think that if I'm right, Blomkamp is overestimating his audience, and some may have walked away thinking that the aliens really were violent, stupid, nasty creatures and that the South Africans were completely justified in putting them in concentration camps.  But that's the nature of sci-fi.  True Blood, Battlestar Galactica, and many other sci-fi tales have messages of tolerance and the flaws of humanity in them.  Whether people actually get these messages?  It's a gamble, and I think Blomkamp would've done better to show more aliens doing regular things, so it's more apparent that the media is biased.

But all in all, this movie was an amazing feat for only $30 million.  The special effects were great, the acting superb (especially from Sharlto Copley, the lead), and the story, aside from my asides, was a pretty good one.  If they do a sequel that involves showing the home planet of the aliens, or them coming back to declare (totally warranted) war on us, I'd definitely go see it.  I'm sort of left thinking about the effect that both the passions and the prejudices of an artist can have on his or her work.  I want to make sure that the stories that I write in the future are devoid of my personal biases, because I'd hate to create something that would be perfect, if not for the shit heap that I pile onto a group of people.

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