The True Story Behind the Movie District 9

Updated on November 28, 2018

Many viewers will be surprised to know that the 2009 sci-fi hit District 9 is actually based on real events. The movie is a mock documentary following the relocation process of a group of aliens who have been stranded in Johannasburg, South Africa, and are living in a refugee camp. The inspiration for the film came from tensions between native South Africans and Zimbabwean refugees, explored in director Neill Blomkamp's short film Alive in Joburg, as well as the actual relocation of over 60,000 residents of District 6 in Cape Town in the 1970s.

District 9 opened in 2009 to critical acclaim. Produced by Peter Jackson, directed by Neill Blomkamp and starring Sharlto Copely, District 9 was nominated for Best Motion Picture of the Year at the 2010 Academy Awards. Additional accolades included Oscar nominations for screenplay, editing, and visual effects.

There is no equality between humans and aliens in District Nine, directed by Peter Jackman.
There is no equality between humans and aliens in District Nine, directed by Peter Jackman.

Alive in Joburg

In 2005, Blomkamp directed a six-minute short film called Alive in Joburg, featuring the aliens seen in the longer version, and Sharlto Copley, the main character. While filmed with the same guerrilla documentary style as District 9, the Joburg aliens are assimilated into the community instead of restricted to the refugee camp, creating friction between the visitors and the native population.

While some of the scenes in Alive in Joburg are scripted and played out by actors, Blomkamp also juxtaposes footage of real interviews with Johannasburg residents. Interviewees were asked on their feelings about the Zimbabwean refugees living in their communities. In the film, the interviewees appear to be referring to the aliens with a large degree of prejudice and fear.

Blomkamp revealed in an interview after the release of District 9 that his initial inspiration for the idea of aliens living in South Africa came from the interviews on Zimbabwean refugees.

District 6

The major difference between the short and the full-length movie is the enforced segregation of the aliens in the later version. In the full version, the aliens are confined to a refugee camp in the middle of Johannasburg from the time of their arrival to the planet. Eventually, the government comes up with a plan to relocate the aliens to a more "suitable" location well away from the city center.

This plot twist was actually inspired by real events that took place in Cape Town, South Africa. District 6, a predominantly colored area with a minority white population located near the docks, had been a thriving residential community since the 1800's. In 1966, the apartheid government declared it a whites-only zone. Between 1968 and 1982 over 60,000 residents were forcibly relocated to the Cape Flats area, considered the "dumping ground" for undesirables.

Government officials then declared District 6 a slum, unfit for habitation. All of the buildings were destroyed, to pave the way for new whites-only infrastructure.

District 9 imposes apartheid on aliens.
District 9 imposes apartheid on aliens.

Filming of District 9

District 9 was filmed on location in the Chiawelo neighborhood of Johannasburg. Chiawelo was undergoing a forced relocation at the time of filming, with the residents being moved to government-subsidized housing. Most of the homes had been recently vacated by the time film crews showed up, but some tenants remained. Over the course of filming these residents were slowly moved to their new location. By the conclusion of filming the film crews were the only people in the deserted community. The shacks depicted in the movie are all actual residences of the poverty-stricken residents of Johannasburg.

Social Commentary

Unfortunately, the scenarios depicted in Alive in Joburg and District 9 are ones that happen in low-income communities and refugee camps across the globe. Not unlike similar groups of humans, the aliens, or prawns, were placed in a slum without access to basic necessities such as food, medical care, and clean drinking water.

Treated as inhuman criminals and pariahs, the behavior of the prawns eventually came to reflect their treatment as they were forced to fight over any scrap available. This served only to reinforce the public prejudice against the prawns in a bitter and unceasing cycle of poverty and violence. Blomkamp's true triumph in this movie is that with all the trappings of a sci-fi action flick, he still manages to retain a hard-hitting social commentary that is invaluable to considerations of our increasingly global society.


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    • profile image


      3 years ago

      Johannesburg.. not Johannasburg

    • JKenny profile image

      James Kenny 

      8 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Hi Anaya, yes it is James. I didn't know that the actors playing the Nigerians weren't even Nigerians, but to be honest I'm not really surprised. Its a shame the film felt that they had to portray Nigerians in that way, because the rest of the film is awesome.

    • Anaya M. Baker profile imageAUTHOR

      Anaya M. Baker 

      8 years ago from North Carolina

      Hi JKenny (is it James?)- It's interesting about the whole Nigerian thing. After all, the movie was really trying to expose things like stereotype, racism, discrimination, but then they went ahead and created a really objectionable portrayal of Nigerians, (who I believe weren't even played by Nigerian actors). Ignorance? Carelessness? Deep-seated prejudice?

    • JKenny profile image

      James Kenny 

      8 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Hi Anaya, another great hub. I remember watching the film, and enjoying it, but at the same time, thinking 'My god-is this what the apartheid era was like?' Because I knew it was based on real events. I remember being disgusted at how the aliens were treated, and that whole scene with the Nigerians somehow seemed wrong. I remember the film received a lot of complaints from Nigeria, about how they had been depicted. Voted up.

    • lokoyizone profile image


      8 years ago

      Very, Very interesting. I never knew that the Movie had such an interesting background.

      Voted up and very useful...

    • Anaya M. Baker profile imageAUTHOR

      Anaya M. Baker 

      8 years ago from North Carolina

      Michael, I trust your artistic judgement:) You're a great writer, you definitely have a way with words!

    • cleaner3 profile image


      8 years ago from Pueblo, Colorado

      Anaya , how do I contact you.? Please send me an e- mail so I can make sure of what you want in your poem.Please.

      Now that you have seen my tributes to others, what do you think.?

    • Anaya M. Baker profile imageAUTHOR

      Anaya M. Baker 

      8 years ago from North Carolina

      Edrian, I'd settle for a good UFO sighting! An alien would probably send me away screaming.

      Michael, I'm flattered! Permission granted, of course...

    • profile image

      edrian mark dualan 

      8 years ago

      I want to see a true alien

    • cleaner3 profile image


      8 years ago from Pueblo, Colorado

      WOW, just found this hub of yours, while I was checking out your profile to see if I could make a poem from your words. District 9 was a fav of mine because I am into U.F.O. stuff and Space as you can see from my pics.

      Anyway, I like it. Think about giving me permission to write a poem on you and put it on my hub. O.K.?

      P.S. I love that name ANAYA.!!!


    • lundmusik profile image


      8 years ago from Tucson AZ

      thanks for the background,, i loved this movie,, i look forward to reading your other hubs.....

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 

      9 years ago from England

      Hi, I remember it well! I was watching the film getting more and more angry, it was so obvious that this was the way that they were treating the black population, I was disgusted. it wasn't even thinly veiled. You could see the hate on the actors faces, I still think it is disgusting how the civilised world let this go on for so long, and what an insult to other white people, it makes the rest of us look so bad, sorry I think you got me on my soap box! lol great article, cheers nell

    • nighthag profile image

      K.A.E Grove 

      9 years ago from Australia

      thought provoking...good work


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