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Movie as Allegory: “District 9”

“It’s been a long time, I shouldn’t have left you…” —Eric B. & Rakim, “I Know You Got Soul,” Paid in Full
Okay, so I’m clearly late, seeing as how District 9 came out a month ago, but to say that I’ve been busy would be an understatement. I hope you can be consoled by the fact that as I watched it, dear readers, I could only think about how I had to get back to my PowerBook to tell you all about it. Dare I say it, I missed you!
For those of you who have no idea, District 9 is set in South Africa, and it follows what happens after a UFO stops its flight and hovers over Johannesburg. When humans enter the vessel, they find aliens, hungry and in need of medical attention. So they pull them off the ship and settle them in an alien settlement where they are quarantined. We enter the story as the humans near the settlement are complaining about the alien’s now 28-year stay on earth (and their attempts to leave their slum), at which point the Multi-National United (read: the United Nations), decides to move them into a barbwire surrounded tent settlement far from the city. And then all hell breaks loose.
I’m won’t tell you what happens, because I think that every one of you should see this movie, whether or not you’re a fan of sci-fi. It’s smart and well written and even funny, and definitely better than whatever crap is playing right now. While the obvious parallels that many folks will draw to the plot is that it’s an allegory for the horrors of Apartheid’s District 6 (and still others will see their own ethnic group’s struggle for independence in the story), I argue that it’s not just a condemnation of that particular South African institution, but for many of the offenses that have befallen all of the African Diaspora—including the aftermath of the United States’ own peculiar institution.

Just a few of the metaphors that jumped out and slapped me in the face:

Space ship = Slave ship
Aliens = Black people
“Prawns” = “Niggers”
Alien settlement = AIDS-riddled shantytowns in South Africa = Ghettos worldwide
Cat food at exorbitant prices =
Poor quality food sold in the hood at exorbitant prices
“Humans Only” signs = “Whites Only” signs
Medical experiments =
Tuskegee Experiments

Watch the trailer below, go see it ASAP then come back and talk to me about it. Seriously. It’s that good.

Have you already seen it? What did you think? Tell me!


If you like Kenrya’s opinion, check out the rest of her posts below.

Last 5 posts by kenrya

  • I loved the movie…i was a little thrown when it started cuz I was ready for big explosions, snazzy effects and fabulous imagery of outer space and it came across like a documentary..But once it started I was hooked…what stuck with me was how Vikun(sp?) treated the aliens when evicting them from the ghetto…made me think of american slavery, south african apartheid, even racism today..black on white as well as reverse, even relates to intercultural racism within the caribbean culture that I grew up with…that whole slick cheery treatment of the other just to get what you need done with the hate and condecension just bubbling under the surface…great movie..i’ve read there may be a sequel…i’d be first in line to see that…

  • ng

    i’m so glad you got to see this movie. it was phenomenal and you will be hooked from beginning to end. there are some obvious parallels to injustice around the globe and it is a definite commentary on South African apartheid but it also very relevant to the U.S. treatment of Latinos, especially Mexicans in America. Also, the organization Multi-National United reminded me not just of the U.N. that was more of it’s facade, it was actually Haliburton and their desire to be at the fore of technological advancements in weaponry. Amazing movie and there will definitely be a sequel! Here is a link to the short film that it was based off of: http://www.spyfilms.com/#neill_blomkamp/alive_in_joburg Also, note to those with weak stomachs, the film is a bit on the GORE-Y side.

  • ng

    oh! and some friends of mine were bothered by the depiction of the black south africans in the film. i understood why however, i thought they did an excellent job of showing a balance of “good and bad” on all sides. i did however think that the diversity of south africa was a bit overshadowed but they may have been because most of the film was relegated to the slums, which of course is filled with black people…as is the case sadly with most countries all over the world.

  • Um, so my lovely neighbor Kareem just reminded me that I, in fact, live in District 9. This column could have been so much better, lol!

  • Bkili

    I’m glad you got through the whole movie. I really couldn’t stomach the aliens talking, it sounded as if the were vomitting the entire time. I definitely picked up on all the metaphors very early and agree from what I saw, that the movie was good. But maybe I shouldn’t have put it on while eating jerk chicken and apple sauce. :-/

  • kid cadaver

    you missed something major:
    the scathing depictions of nigerians as flesh-eating savages, pimps, prostitutes and withdoctors…
    this has been viewed in 2 ways:
    a]highly offensive
    b]allegorical to many black south africans anti-immigrant sentiment and xenophobia

  • You are so right, kid cadaver! I forgot about that; yet another difficult metaphor in this movie.