In addition to serving as an immersive source of entertainment, films serve a multitude of purposes in society including conveying a moral or lesson and providing social commentary of issues that continue to take place in modern times. One of the most critically acclaimed examples in recent years is Neil Blomkamp’s science fiction film District 9 which can be seen as an allegory for racism and xenophobia in its parallels to events that took place in the city of Cape Town, South Africa during the apartheid era and practices that continue to take place in present day South Africa.
In an alternate 1982, a group of aliens arrive on earth to seek refuge from their dying planet. They are not in good condition when they arrive because many appear to be ill and exhibit the effects of not having eaten for some time. Despite an initial welcome from the human population, the aliens are separated from the human population by locating them to an area outside of Johannesburg called “District 9” which eventually degrades into a slum like neighborhood.
Twenty-eight years later, in 2010, the public starts demanding the aliens be relocated to another region farther from Johannesburg following the aliens’ increased involvement in protests, uprisings, and other disturbances of the peace. A field operative named Wikus van der Merwe (Sharlto Copley) who works for Multi-National United (MNU), the world’s second largest weapons manufacturer that was given the job of managing the aliens, is given the assignment to relocate the population of 1.8 million aliens of District 9 to a new location area later known as District 10 which is 240 kilometers from Johannesburg.
During the relocation effort, Wikus is exposed to an unknown fluid that was produced by the aliens. This fluid was developed by the aliens through working with bits and pieces of the technology they brought with them. Eventually, Wikus’s DNA begins to mutate as he gradually transforms into one of the aliens. His mutated DNA allows him to utilize the aliens’ technology, something that the MNU had been trying to accomplish throughout the course of the film. This fluid plays an important part in the film because the technology involves not just weapons but also the “fuel” that the alien spacecraft would use for space travel. When the MNU makes the decision to vivisect Wikus to fully utilize the aliens’ technology, he escapes and hides out in the only place that will accept him anymore, District 9.
The climax of the film comes when Wikus is about to be killed by one of MNU’s most violent operatives. Wikus’s bravery during the final confrontation enables two of the aliens, a father and son, to make their way to the aliens’ spaceship and leave earth. After Wikus’s mutation, the other aliens now see him as one of their own and they violently attack and kill the MNU soldier. As the film concludes, Wikus has fully mutated and is content with living as an alien for the rest of his life.
The aliens in the film are referred to as “prawns” after the Parktown prawn, which is considered a pest and held in low regard in many parts of South Africa. In addition to the name and similar visual appearance, the “prawns” in the film produce a noxious black liquid, which is similar to how actual Parktown prawns react when frightened. In addition, the film was inspired by events that took place during the apartheid era, most notably District Six, in which over 60,000 of its inhabitants were forcibly relocated to the Cape Flats complex by 1982, around the time when the aliens first arrive on earth in the film. Because of what took place in District Six, coupled with the fact that it actually occurred during the apartheid era, it is plausible that the aliens would be referred to in such a derogatory manner as well as forcibly placed in a militarized area that would eventually degrade into a slum like neighborhood.
From an allegorical perspective, District 9 does a tremendous job in portraying the dark side of the apartheid era because Neil Blomkamp doesn’t just focus on the unruly behavior of the aliens and the Nigerians who control access to their weapons and food, he also shines the light of truth on the horrible lawless conduct of the white majority that’s in power. Even if you have no intention of providing deep analysis and studying its themes and messages, the film, from a technical perspective, is a well-shot, well-written, and overall well-put together science fiction thriller that has plenty to offer to any fan of the science fiction genre.
As previously stated, films have a multitude of purposes in society including providing entertainment for the masses, providing an outlet for people to express their creativity, conveying a moral or message, providing commentary on current events, and shedding light on issues that continue to take place in modern times. Because of this, no matter how you interpret film and whether or not you see it as something to analyze and give meaning to, it is one of the most universal and timeless forms of art that has something that will arouse the interest of any one whether they are a film buff or casual viewer.
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