Is District 9 Racist?

Illustration for article titled Is District 9 Racist?

It may be an alien-disguised apartheid allegory according to some (Okay, many), but does that mean that District 9 isn't racist itself? And no, this is more than metaphor.


Blogger Nicole Stamp risked the wrath of the internet by writing an essay called, bluntly, "District 9 is racist." Her reasoning, however, goes beyond the portrayal of the aliens in the movie - although she has problems with that, too:

The aliens are loathsome, trash-eating vermin who fight endlessly, destroy property for no reason, and piss on their own homes, which isn't a truthful or flattering allegorical comparison for actual black South Africans under apartheid. Apartheid is terrible because humans were denied rights. The "apartheid" of these aliens isn't that terrible — it's kind of justifiable, because they're actually dangerous, violent and destructive. I think it would be a better allegory, and a more sophisticated movie, if the aliens weren't unpleasant. If they were peaceful and kind, but the humans still demonized them, the film would be much more chilling; the horror would be "man's inhumanity to lobster-man", not "eew gross they eat pig heads!"


But the allegory has little, if anything, to do with why she's convinced that Neill Blomkamp's critically-acclaimed movie is racist. No, that comes from its treatment of the humans in the movie:

The Nigerian gangsters are bloodthirsty, dishonest thugs, which is not a big deal — they're gangsters, I get it. They see the aliens as mere cockroaches with money, so they don't treat them well, and that makes perfect sense. They're just cruel, self-interested mercenaries, and in this, they're no worse than the film's (mostly white) government officials, who cold-bloodedly torture and murder the aliens. So far no racism, just characters with motivations.


The Nigerians have a wailing "witch doctor". Who instructs them to eat the aliens. And they do it. Bloody, wriggling, and raw, of course. We're told that the black prostitutes "service" the aliens sexually. ARE YOU EFFING KIDDING ME??! And when Wikus' arm grows a claw, the Nigerian gang boss starts licking his chops, eager to commit cannibalism.

Yup, that's Hollywood's Africa the Africa we get from the media, isn't it. Black Africans shown as degenerate savages who'll have sex with non-humans and are pretty damn eager to eat people.


The blog's readership is split between those who agree, and those who don't, even for the most random of reasons ("The director is from South Africa and is not racist, just an FYI," being my favorite).

District 9 is racist [Pageslap]

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i hated how the nigerians were portrayed, but ultimately my problem still lies fully with the actual aliens themselves. i didn't like how christopher johnson was depicted as the only good, smart alien who had a christian name and wore clothes- thus reinforcing the vile "noble savage" trope that is so problematic in our own society. and then whenever people pull out the, "it was all explained because these aliens are from a rigid caste system and all the dumb, violent aliens are of the lower classes and christopher johnson is of the ruling elite" i get seriously pissed, because that is the EXACT LOGIC that has been used in our own society to deny rights to native americans, hispanics, asians, and africans over the past hundred of years. so the fact that it's somehow ok to look at this alien society, filled with vile, contemptible creatures and then swallow the whole "it's ok, some of the aliens are just better than the others" bullshit reasoning defeats the entire message of "hating others is bad" because they built in an excuse for their own lack of development in the alien society. and then, to top it off, the fact that the filmmakers are saying that they didn't want to make the film too hard to understand/digest and scare away the popcorn flick aspect of it pisses me off even more, because if you're going to make a movie that references apartheid in one hundred ways and you're not ready/willing to really address the issue, then sorry, you're opening yourself up to a lot of justifiable criticism.

finally, the "nigerians" were speaking the wrong language. they were speaking zulu and swahili. that's sort of like making a movie about japanese characters and having them speak vietnamese and korean, and thinking that that's totally fine, because it's all asian, and who cares really if it's inaccurate?