Apartheid From Outer Space - 'District 9' Movie Review

Updated on January 9, 2019
Sam Shepards profile image

Hi, I'm Sam, I love movies. My main interest is science fiction and zombie movies. Pessimistic and survival films I also enjoy a lot.

When a fiction is good, it's capable of transmitting real messages even more effectively than straight-up journalism or documentaries. Hence the grandeur and instant classic condition of District 9. Its sci-fi is of the highest quality.

Neill Blomkamp makes a fierce criticism about his native South Africa's Apartheid years, which although it no longer exists in official terms, continues to have an undeniable negative impact on the built of his nation. District 9 is directly inspired by one of the darkest episodes in Cape Town's history: the creation of District Six, a residential area for "whites only" that, in 1966, forced the violent removal of more than 60,000 people.

Of course, the power of District 9 is that the criticism is not made from the archival images or the biopic genre, but from one of the most hardcore sci-fi tales in recent memory.

In this universe, in 1982 an alien ship inexplicably stopped over Johannesburg. After multiple political tensions, finally, a research team found that the ship was full of malnourished and sick aliens, which humans began to call "prawns" because of its appearance.

The South African government agreed to "take care" the dying aliens, confining them to a concentration camp located outside the city called "District 9".

The film really starts 28 years later, in 2010. District 9 is a decaying shanty town with its own law, full of illicit activities that always involve some kind of human-extraterrestrial interaction. Given the context of the precarious situation and the exclusionary speciesism, that has been the only way in which both cultures have been able to interact.

Due to numerous protests and clashes between the local humans and the aliens, the government decides to hire a private mercenary company called MNU to do the hard work of relocating the alien population to a new and larger concentration camp, farther away from humans. The face of the operation is the naive and inexperienced Wikus van de Merwe (Sharlto Copley), placed strategically by his father-in-law to show a friendly and innocent face to the world.

But thanks in large part to his growing relationship with an alien named Christopher Johnson, Wikus will soon understand that the work is much more arduous than expected and that the MNU will execute repression sometimes to lethal levels to achieve results.

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The political potency of District 9 also occurs at a technical/narrative level. At the beginning, everything is shown with handheld cameras, documentary style, as if we were watching the live material recorded by the MNU, moderated by Wikus.

Through interviews, testimonies, and actions, this documentary footage tries to show the pretty side of an action that is obviously repressive in nature. But, slowly but steadily, the film makes a transition to the most explicit and explosive blockbuster violence.

That, coupled with other details, such as the fact that the human has the alien-like name (Wikus) and the alien protagonist has a human name (Christopher Johnson), further deepens the diffuse border between the two species, empowering the anti-racist message of the film.

Few film debuts have been as powerful as District 9. An absolute box office success and widely acclaimed by critics (to the point of getting big Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Best Visual Effects, Best Editing and Best Adapted Screenplay), the only negative thing about this movie, is that has put Blomkamp an absurdly high standard, which until now none of his later films (Elysium, Chappie etc.) have been able to reach.

Movie Details

Title: District 9

Release Year: 2009

Director(s): Neill Blomkamp

Actors: Sharlto Copley, Jason Cope, David James a.o.

4 stars for District 9

© 2019 Sam Shepards

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