NPR did an interesting piece on the reception of District 9 by some moviegoers in South Africa where it opened over the weekend. As those who’ve followed this blog know, I previously posted on the film upon first seeing its trailer and after viewing it in its entirety, so my ears perked up when I heard the intro to this story.
My views on the film were mixed as were the opinions of those surveyed by NPR’s reporters outside a Cape Town movie theater. Not surprisingly, race and nationality influenced each individual’s interpretation, as is clear from the following quote:
“In some ways, it was shocking,” says Cape Town resident Christo Schutte, stopping to talk outside a local theater. “I’m a young South African, thinking of District Six.”
District Six was a historically interracial Cape Town neighborhood that the government deemed a slum — and from which more than 60,000 residents were forcibly removed — in the 1970s, under apartheid laws. Apartheid was the system of legal racial separation enforced by South Africa’s white minority government from 1948 to 1994.
Schutte, who’s white, said watching South African security forces violently evict aliens from their homes in the fictional slum that gives the film its title made him reflect on the real-life forced removals in District Six.
“What happened there … I never understood, because I never really experienced that,” Schutte says. “So for me, that was a shock, as a white South African, to see that.”
Other viewers critiqued the film as racist in spite of its message of tolerance:
[Fortune] Sibanda [a 33-year-old South African resident originally from Zimbabwe] says he thinks the film is undermined by its liberal use of what he sees as racial and ethnic stereotypes.
He points to the masses of impoverished blacks and aliens living in the film’s shantytowns, and to the crime that filmmaker Neill Blomkamp depicts as flourishing there. One particularly vicious District 9 kingpin — a Nigerian, heavily armed and attended by a traditional healer — schemes to master the aliens’ technology, going to great lengths to do it.
“I think what it does, it shows South Africa from white eyes — the fear that the African is a cannibal who wants to eat others to assimilate their power,” Sibanda says. “So in trying to do all that, I think the movie totally failed at the end of the day.”
It’s a piece well worth the read or listen because it reminds us of the specificity of the viewing experience and the importance of bringing in a diversity of voices when discussing a film’s meaning(s). Check it out and feel free to post your opinions also.