17

I realize, in general - apartheid, I get it. But was there anything more subtle that someone closer to the culture and politics in South Africa picked up that general audiences around the world would not?

4
  • 1
    Satire usually implies humor.
    – Chris Lutz
    Mar 4, 2012 at 1:55
  • 2
    @chris Lutz District 9 is funny, if you have a very black sense of humour.
    – Christi
    Mar 4, 2012 at 3:07
  • @Christi - Actually I do. Though I will admit the catfood bit was quite amusing.
    – Chris Lutz
    Mar 4, 2012 at 5:09
  • 3
    I think that the film has some spectacularly funny scenes provided that you have a allowed your soul to atrophy.
    – erdiede
    Mar 4, 2012 at 17:17

4 Answers 4

27

I think the film may be making more of a general statement regarding the feelings of South Africa regarding issues with illegal immigration, first from Rhodesia and then from Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and Nigeria. As I understand it they have major issues with South Africans lashing out at the migrants in the form of riots. As a response to this a number of camps were established to "house" the migrants.

This story from the BBC website gives more specific details. The general description of the camps sounds disturbingly similar to the conditions of District 9. These events (riots and camps) occurred in 2008.

I'm not convinced the film is even really concerned with apartheid. It's concerned primarily with an external population coming in and creating a nuisance (as opposed to apartheid where an external population came in and totally rebuilt society).

I think the key point of the film is how do you deal with major humanitarian\xenotarian issues. If you a have a population that moves in and brings tens\hundreds of thousands of beings with no means to survive how do you assimilate that. What if the migrant population DOESN'T want to assimilate but retain their own cultural values in the face of an established society? Do you allow them to starve on the street? Do you evict them to a fate of certain death or torture. If there is no land willing to accept them do you march them into the sea? If your own population rejects their presence do you allow said "native" population to murder the migrants in the street?

I think the film (or at least the first half of the film) is really just trying to shock people into seeing the major issues associated with migrant populations\refuges.

2
  • 2
    If only this answer could be made required reading for anyone commenting on District 9 online. So tired of the assumption that "it's South Africa and bad things are happening, so it must be an allegory for apartheid herp derp." It's worth noting that (AFAIK) the script was already written and shooting was over by the time the actual 2008 riots erupted. So it was either right on top of current events or a bit prescient in its allegory about xenophobia, as opposed to commenting on the quarter-century-old Cold War politics that everyone's minds seem to jump to when they hear "South Africa."
    – Wolfie Inu
    Oct 6, 2015 at 10:00
  • The first version of the movie (I believe it was a short film) made some years before the real one, used some real footage of South Africans talking about migrants from other countries. Jan 17, 2023 at 21:39
19

It's less apartheid and more contemporary South Africa - the aliens represent Zimbabwean immigrants.

"I was asking black South Africans about black Nigerians and Zimbabweans. That's actually where the idea came from was there are aliens living in South Africa, I asked "What do you feel about Zimbabwean Africans living here?" And those answers — they weren't actors, those are real answers..."

Neill Blomkamp, Director of District 9

10

Well, for another example, the role of the Nigerian gangs mirrors a lot of the problems that South Africa really does have with Nigerian OC. In the real world it's drugs and prostitutes instead of the satirical cat food and alien tech.

-1

In addition to what others have mentioned, I think a key idea/theme is "dehumanization." I am thinking about how subjects were treated in concentration camp medical experiments and also the Tuskegee syphilis experiment. Experimenters need to treat subjects impartially and this is much easier if one does not think of them as sentient creatures.

In District 9, Wikus destroys the eggs of the aliens and jokes about it sounding like popcorn. Now, these are not humans but the attitude that he has towards the eggs (or larval forms) of the aliens is similar to that of the experimenters towards humans in the aforementioned cases. And Wikus knows already that the aliens are intelligent -- everyone does.

But the really key scene is after Wikus is taken into custody and then subjected to experimentation, seeing if his new limb is able to activate the alien weaponry. He is scarcely acknowledged, only commanded to fire the weapons and when he does not cooperate, they simply use a cattle prod to force him to do so. (Note also that for some reason, perhaps because they need proof that the weapons will work against the aliens, they force him to fire upon a living alien, not sure if they do this more than once but throughout the movie, the "prawns" are really treated as unfeeling, dumb beasts, despite the fact that they are members of a civilization with technology perhaps thousands of years ahead of our own -- we simply have no hope of understanding the technology, only are attempting to use it, which they can only do once Wikus is partially transformed -- the weapons are just inert bricks.)

His transformation may have helped the researchers disregard his rights as a human or simply the fact that he is being experimented that causes them to treat him as a "guinea pig" - Note also that he is was an employee of the company and even more significant is the fact that his own father-in-law is present -- that Wikus is married to his daughter matters not at all.

Of course, his complete transformation later in the film underlines this theme.

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