In August of this year the critically acclaimed sci-fi thriller District 9 debuted, boasting an exotic location, foreign languages, and blacks and whites united against a common threat—Prawns. The Prawns are aliens whose intergalactic automobile (most likely a Ford) has broken down on the wrong side of town—just above Johannesburg. Depicted as scary and aggressive, the tall, physically variant, language deprived aliens are nothing like your typical shaky-voiced, thin-skinned, shiny-fingered E.T.
Twenty years later, having been dumped intopredominately black neighborhoods, we find the Prawns ravaged by poverty, segregation, and strung out on cat food. There you have it—1980’s Harlem. Mounting tensions between blacks and Prawns finally result in a massive eviction. 24-hours notice! And surprise, this time it ain’t the colored-folk getting tossed. Instead, the prawns suffer the same fate of many South Africans who were forcibly removed from their homes in Cape Town’s District 6 during the apartheid era and were relocated to more restrictive, less-integrated areas.
To the movie’s credit, the Ninth Ward, oops, I mean District 9, displays all the major symptoms of poverty and racism (speciesism)—prostitution, drug abuse, weapons dealing, and a powerful-despite-being-physically-handicapped drug lord. Plus, to keep it all in check we have an aggressive state, secret scientific experimentation, corrupt government officials, and an unsuspecting-do-gooder-white-guy with his feeble Negro companion (who is either perpetually confused or suffering from a speech impediment akin to stuttering). Cliché? Check!
While many critics have lauded the film’s alien-style apartheid, many Nigerians have protested the sci-fi depiction as racist. District 9 shows them in typical black form—hyper-sexed, corrupt, voodoo masters, eye-rolling, mid-trance cannibals who eat aliens in an attempt to gain special powers. In short, they are drug addicts as well. Racist? You betcha! But hey, poverty and racism are f’d up—even as told in allegories. Always inherent in the depiction of people of color are white conglomerates with the power and resources to both tell and sell stories. Along the way they are helped by apolitical impoverished people of color who have less important things on their minds. Besides, so much emphasis is placed on “non-human” activity in the film that little attention is given to the already battered black areas where Prawns were forced to live in the first place. Albeit, there are no blatant propaganda signs declaring “white’s only” but there might as well be—these are clearly defined black areas. The Prawns aren’t being removed from the Upper West Side—their homes look much more like the South Bronx in the Reagan Era.
From a story-telling standpoint, District 9 seems to have bitten off more than it can chew, however the film does manage to get one thing across—mixed race is the saving grace. When the film’s human protagonist undergoes a metamorphosis, this half Prawn, half white-man sparks the revolution.
But why couldn’t the Prawns mix with Nigerians? I’m sure one of the prostitutes forgot to take her pill. And what about blacks uniting with the aliens to fight the evil MNU (LAPD, NYPD, CPD) squad? Of course hyper-sexed, cannibal Nigerians were offensive, but I’m more offended by their complete lack of altruism, their single-mindedness, and by the fact that the only character who seemed to show any empathy was an unsuspecting white man whose accidental mixing sparked a potential revolution. In the end, we are left with an alien (who’s really a simple white guy), the feeble Negro-turned-political-prisoner, and the widow who upon receiving the flower from her husband-turned-Prawn gave me visions of Mr. and Mrs. Loving. And there you have it folks—the sci-fi anti “one drop rule”, la raza cosmica sans black folk. That’s the real racism.