‘District 9’ — profoundly racist


"District 9"

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.



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  • I didn't see District 9, but I tend to not trust white South Africans, especially white South African filmmakers who seem to avoid casting black people IN AFRICA. That's a pretty big clue this guy is racist.

    Posted by Jae, 01/19/2015 4:36am (4 months ago)

  • You do realize that the film is set 1982, right? It states that very early on. Either do better research before you write, or at the very least pay attention...

    Posted by Common Sense, 05/07/2013 9:27pm (2 years ago)

  • Undermining black people is very important for Hollywood and the western media.
    I am Indian by ethnicity and i am under no illusions about how they want to portray blacks.
    Indians are also not shown in the best light by western media, but black people have it worse.
    Even in the rare occasion they show a black hero (I am Legend, Book of Eli). The black man is alone and is surrounded by whites. And usually has a white lead actress by his side.
    These films often end up as flops.
    Why was Avatar a huge hit? Why was District 9 a huge hit?
    Because white audience LOVE covert racism. And the coconuts sadly dont seem to realise what is going on.
    If Avatar and District 9 did not have the 'white hero', they would have flopped. District 9 would also have flopped if it portrayed blacks as intelligent and cultured.

    Posted by ugk, 01/07/2012 3:43am (3 years ago)

  • This review makes some valid points about the depiction of Nigerians in "District 9," but it entirely misses the the excruciating critique the film levels at political regimes that construct and oppress "others" (in this case, alien beings). Yes, the protagonist is a white South African, but he is "othered" with dizzying speed once his alien "contamination" is uncovered. The film thus shows how race is entirely socially constructed to meet the needs of power. The images of torture in the film, almost unwatchable, resonate loudly with the U.S.'s persistent dehumanization of so-called "Arabs" in the Middle East. "District 9" certainly shares some of the shallow attributes of Hollywood films (though it isn't strictly a Hollywood product), but it should not be easily dismissed as merely stereotypical.

    Posted by C Bond, 11/17/2009 4:00pm (6 years ago)

  • I think the fact that the movie's intent was for the audience to walk away feeling more sorry for the aliens than they do for the native people of South Africa. When are we going to make a movie about the HUMAN suffering that occurs today. Why make a movie with a fictitious species about metaphorical racism, when you have perfectly good and important story to tell now. Good thing I snuck in to see this one!

    Posted by Jamela Williams, 11/17/2009 2:40pm (6 years ago)

  • From what I've heard, South Africa is still almost as unequal along racial lines as it was during apartheid, and I think that Blomkamp might have been simply trying to portray the reality rather than make a racist statement. I didn't realize while I was watching the movie that the portrayal of Nigerians was untrue and offensive given the level of xenophobia in South Africa recently, but I think the comparison of this movie with "The Birth of a Nation" is nuts. Other than the off-color depictions of Nigerians, what else in this movie could possibly be thought of as racist?

    Posted by Mick Diddams, 10/23/2009 7:14pm (6 years ago)

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