If you haven't seen the movie, I do recommend it. The best sci-fi is a commentary on aspects of modern society and this is no exception. The story is set in Johannesburg, South Africa, where an alien spacecraft has been stranded for several years. When humans are finally able to get into the ship, they find thousands of sick and malnourished aliens living in filth. The humans bring the alien population into Jo-burg, and after violence between aliens and humans, the aliens are relocated to District 9.
District 9 quickly becomes a terrible slum. Humans have no respect for these beings, and alien breeding is restricted (unauthorized young are killed), aliens are killed and arrested with basically no provocation, and a black market trade of cat food (which is evidently an addictive drug to the aliens) is controlled by a Nigerian gang.
Our main character Wikus van de Merwe is charged with responsibility for the forced removal of the aliens to another camp farther from the city. During a raid to get the aliens' signatures on their notices of eviction, Wikus is infected with an alien virus that begins to turn him into an alien.
The allusion in District 9 is fairly blatant. Anyone familiar with South African Apartheid history will recognize the similarities to the forced removal of residents from District 6 in Cape Town. But you don't need to be too familiar with the history in order to recognize the way in which the aliens represent how POC have been and are treated across the world. For example:
- Segregated into a separate area
- Once segregated, forcibly removed once it becomes politically expedient to do so
- Treated like idiotic children, patronized, manipulated, and lied to (ex: Wikus gets the aliens to sign eviction notices even as the aliens make it clear that they have no idea what "eviction" even means)
- Reproduction controlled
- Used for medical experiments
They even have a derogatory name - prawn.
The aliens (we never hear a name that they might call themselves) are shown in basically the worst light possible - drunk on cat food, stupid, violent, living in filth. It reminded me of the way in which POC have been portrayed and are still portrayed (think of images from ghettos and slums across the world). It is difficult to sympathize with creatures that live like this.
This is a genius comparison to how we are invited to view modern human inhabitants of slums. How could people live like that in the garbage and filth? How could they become prostitutes or crackheads or alcoholics? How can they be so violent? Why can't they get their lives together?
The implication is that slum inhabitants choose to live like that, which is of course furthest from the truth. Just like humans trapped in the cycle of hopeless poverty, the aliens have no means by which to gain an increased standard of living. If you have no prospects and no hope, why not do crack? At least it provides a way to escape your situation for a few minutes.
I liked the movie. I thought the comparisons were excellent. But after all that, here is where I kept getting stuck. We hear several times in the movie that the aliens are like hive creatures, and all of the alien elite have been killed by a virus or something. Because the elite are dead, the remainder of the aliens have no one to lead them and they fall hopelessly into the conditions we see them in during the movie.
This reminded me of the excuses that people make to explain why human populations live in slums. "They can't help it." "They're less intelligent." "It's their lifestyle." These excuses allow white people to forgive themselves for any role they may have played in creating the slum conditions, and to excuse themselves from any responsibility to help slum dwellers increase their standard of living.
However, the lies that we use to explain poverty are demonstrably not true. As should not need to be said, no human population has ever been proven to be less intelligent than any other. It may be horrifying for many to contemplate, but if put in the same position, any human would behave in the same way. Violence, drugs, disease, filth - these are symptoms of hopelessness, not of any innate psychological or physiological difference between the haves and the have-nots.
So are the aliens really just stupid hive-minders who can't help themselves? If they are, then the analogy between the aliens and human ghettos fails in a spectacular and disturbing way. All of the alien behavior we see on screen is not, then, due to their circumstances (at least not entirely). If the aliens are worker drones who need someone to lead them, doesn't this hearken back to the colonialist mind-set of a population in need of a firm, paternal hand of guidance?
Because that rationalization is what got us to where we are today.
I don't have any kind of a big conclusion to this meandering little thought, I just wanted to throw it out there. If any of you have seen the movie, what did you think of it?