Directed by Neill Blomkamp
2009, 112 min., Rated R
What D. W. Griffiths did to U.S. history in his technically magnificent but thematically racist “Birth of a Nation,” Neill Blomkamp does to Africa in the profoundly racist “District 9.”
The “Nigerians” in “District 9” inherit the depictions of slaves and freed Blacks in the Griffiths epic: they are snarling, monstrous, cannibalistic, sexually depraved and murderous. And they are the only Africans in the film other than the few African residents of the future Republic of South Africa in which the story takes place.
And what about the South Africa shown in this film? Is there any sign that the African National Congress and Nelson Mandela have influenced the character of this future South African society? No way! Not in Blomkamp’s vision. The South African technocracy is pretty much lily white, with just a few Africans who have become qualified to work in the corporate and state institutions. And this in a country that is almost 90% African and only 10% European.
What’s more, the few representatives of poor Black South Africans who speak to reporters in the film’s newsreels are depicted as callously unsympathetic with, even hostile toward, the alien “prawns” even though the South African government has forced the aliens to live in concentration camps like those in which indigenous South Africans were confined under apartheid.
Blomkamp has received praise for his seemingly “humanistic” treatment of the “prawns,” but in fact the South Africa that he projects into the future is one that is an apartheid-supporter’s ideal: wealth, power and know-how are in the hands of whites. The “liberal” message of this movie is that aliens and humans can “just get along” so long as both groups successfully control, and even exterminate, the African “savages” so familiar to Western fantasies from the 1800s on.
It is heartening to see that the Nigerian authorities and others in Africa are exposing the racism that “District 9” represents and mounting boycotts of the film. But it is not encouraging to see how easily the racist themes have escaped the notice of almost all American film critics.