Director: Neill Blomkamp Release Date: 4 September Review by Tara Judah Having fallen prey to recent internet blogging backlash District 9 was a film met with great anxiety: from the trailer I’d seen a week earlier, I was excited to see it, but, having heard the suggestion that this was going to be an inherently racist ride, I was also concerned. Though I can understand the criticisms leveled at the film, I found it neither fundamentally offensive in its approach to sensitive issues nor excessive in its emphasis on entertainment action sequences. Instead, I found it hypnotic and thought provoking. District 9 opens in docu-news style in order to give itself some credence at the offset, an astute choice considering the sci-fi subject matter that ensues. Set in Johannesburg (more than a welcome change to the usual formulaic Hollywood paradigm whereby LA or New York are not only the backdrop for disaster but act too as the centre-point of planet Earth), an ominous mother ship hovers above the city. But it is the moment where the government decides to intervene and cut into the ship that the film truly begins, with the very simple idea of invasion. It is an important moment because it is not the aliens aboard who have invaded the Earth, it is the systematic structures of a capitalist society that have invaded alien property not even (technically) on Earthly land, as the ship is suspended mid-air. This is the set up for the extraordinary film that follows, trying at every juncture to frame the problems of the 21st century and blaming them all on the multi-national, globalised, corporate, oppressive systems established by white western man. Next is a series of mini-allegorical examples of man’s physical and theoretical destruction of the Earth and humanity: first, the ‘temporary holding facility’ the aliens, derogatorily nick-named ‘prawns’, inhabit is akin to a detention centre, most notably Guantanamo Bay, suggesting briefly that they are refugees- their having been ‘found’ by the humans “malnourished and helpless”; next, they are described as ‘workers’, likening their mass to the many people whose contemporary lives are alienated (pun intended) by capitalist infrastructures; third, they amass landfill by destroying their own surroundings, make them slum like, at once representing all humankind and exploring the idea that the first and second of these situations force the final, inevitable result of destruction. After the initial set up it’s difficult to conceive of where the plot will turn to next, and more importantly, if in doing so it will continue to question contemporary capitalist culture. Our protagonist, Wikus van de Merwe epitomizes a white South African settler and a government ‘prawn’ if you will (his character mirrors the aliens even early on in the film, so when he is the one to be ‘infected’ with alien DNA it is unsurprising that a metamorphosis ensues). Wikus experiences an all too familiar ‘body horror’ transformation reminiscent of the films of David Cronenberg, most notably The Fly (1986). His horror is about becoming Other, but the real horror is that ‘his kind’ will view him that way. The horror his own wife displays at even the idea of miscegenation, is indicative of the filmmakers’ view that still we are terrified of that which we see as Other, and are incapable of seeing past visual difference to find sameness. This is further illustrated when Wikus himself takes asylum in District 9 and finds that the so-called prawns are far more accepting of his form that his own species. Here, the question of racism in the film comes to light. The ‘underbelly of crime’ that is depicted in D9 is of a gang of Nigerians who are shown to be profiteering from exploiting aliens and involving in acts of prostitution and witchcraft. The only real problem with this depiction is that the film fails to set up the reasons (albeit obvious though they are), as to why this might be the case; i.e. Nigerians in South Africa are poor due to white settlement and capitalism, as a result their socio-economic position can be a motivator for a life of crime. If anything, these depictions continue to make a strong case for the film’s central concern being anti-capitalist, anti-colonial, and anti-oppressive. Does the film depict a dystopia? You bet. And is that racist? I don’t think so. Finally, the film seems to culminate with the inference that technology should be feared; from weaponry to computers and cellular phone tracking technology, it is clear that the Blomkamp is warning us against the potential perils of technological advance. The final horror, when Wikus becomes one with the machine, is the single most destructive force in the film. Essentially, the film questions our conception of ‘home’ and posits it strongly against the conception of that which is ‘alien’. The once strong boundaries as set up early on in the film between the human folk and the inhabitants of District 9 are now somewhat blurred. Distinction is an important and provocative notion in D9, and the film certainly calls its viewer to question, asking above all else, why are we so keen to define ourselves against that which we are not?