District 9


The opening sequence of District 9 stays close to Neill Blomkamp’s original short – taking the form of a faux documentary outlining problems re the alien township of District 9 – a township slum close to Johannesburg inhabited by alien refugees. We appear to be in an alternative apartheid situation based on shape prejudice rather than colour prejudice. We are also an alternate timeline because while the film is set in 2010, there are frequent references to the fact that the aliens arrived twenty years previously.

This segues fairly seamlessly into an MNU operation to evict the aliens and move them to a tent city 240 kilometers from Johannesburg. MNU is “Multi-National Unit”; the agency that polices the aliens. Quite why it is called that is unclear as it is staffed entirely by South Africans – mostly Afrikaaners at that.

Black South African characters are actually conspicuous by their general absence. There are some interviewees in the opening sequence, a black MNU paramilitary and a senior(ish) MNU suit. And that’s it.

The main black characters are Nigerian gangsters. They are cardboard cut-out villains, less well characterised than the aliens. I am aware that Nigerian gangsters do operate in South Africa’s townships and South Africans – both black and white – hold them responsible for much of the violent crime that afflicts the country. How true that is I could not say but these stereotype Nigerian bad guys are clearly written to pander to that view.

The plot hinges on the fact that the aliens’ technology is attuned to their DNA so that humans cannot operate it. During the eviction operation referred to above an MNU official gets contaminated with an extract of alien DNA and begins metamorphing into an alien. This makes him an object of interest to both the Nigerian gangsters and the South African government. I use the word “object” deliberately as to both groups he is no longer a human being but nerely something to be used. He is spirited away to a government research lab that is not so much apartheid as Third Reich.

He makes a rather unlikely escape from this and at this point the film becomes an action-pic – clearly with a blockbuster audience in mind. Its saving grace is the protagonist who, as he loses his physical humanity, gains an empathy with the despised “prawns”, The ending SPOILER WARNING! made me think of the ending od Blood Diamond and the way the protagonist of that film gained redemption.

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