I didn’t plan for this to be a two-part post, but then I read more deeply into a new sci-fi film called District 9, and I couldn’t help but elaborate upon the ideas explored in my previous post. I first saw the trailer over the weekend at a matinee screening of Orphan (more on that movie later). Here’s the trailer:
The film’s setting struck me immediately upon watching the trailer. Western films rarely use South Africa as a film’s setting unless the film examines the history of apartheid. While District 9 clearly draws upon apartheid also, it does so through a story set in the future. The authorities confine aliens to a section of Johannesburg where they can be contained and interrogated, an obvious reference to apartheid-era townships (though truth be told, apartheid reforms did not eliminate the townships, as much of the black population in Johannesburg remains in those underdeveloped communities). It’s yet to be seen exactly how the film will draw upon apartheid, but the marketing for the film hints at some interesting possibilities: a fictional blog by an alien activist, signage declaring “humans only,” and a protest at the San Diego ComicCon all suggest that the filmmakers will be raising some interesting questions with District 9.
So, what’s the connection between District 9 and the films mentioned in my previous post? As in RoboCop and Aliens, the primary antagonist in District 9 is a multi-national corporation. Taking a page from the Aliens book, the corporation appropriately known as Multinational United (MNU) studies the aliens for weapons development. Hence, District 9 critiques the military-industrial complex much like it’s sci-fi predecessors. That District 9 also tackles issues of human (er, alien?) rights gives it all the more potential.
Hopefully, a film about injustice in South Africa will draw attention to the social unrest plaguing the country. In recent weeks, protests have broken out across the country over poor living conditions in townships. One Guardian article declares, “South Africa is sitting on a social time bomb,” due to a 77% poverty rate, one of the highest HIV infection rates in the world, and government corruption. While District 9 potentially trivializes these concerns, it also has the potential to powerfully allegorize these problems.