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Review: District 9

Updated: Mar 30, 2022

Director: Neill Blomkamp

Writers: Neill Blomkamp, Terri Tatchell

Genre: Action, Science Fiction

Release year: 2009

Runtime: 112 min

Twenty years ago, an extraterrestrial ship landed in the heart of Johannesburg, South Africa. After a mission is launched to find out what was in there, a whole community of starving, ill aliens was discovered. For some time the aliens were a media phenomenon, but soon the aliens are forgotten.

The aliens are made to live in the concentration camp-like District 9. As world leaders convene to decide what to do about the 'alien problem', the extraterrestrial guests are ostracized by humans. Government field operative Wikus van der Merwe (Sharlto Copley) is sent to District 9 to serve eviction notices to the aliens in an attempt to move them to District 10, but what happens on that trip changes his view of the downtrodden derelicts.

This film clearly draws from South Africa's history of apartheid as well as its current dilemma with illegal immigration and xenophobia. The film represents classism and discrimination in a format we can relate to and then makes a small critique of these phenomena. Wikus is portrayed as the average government employee who is both an instrument and an exploited cog of the system. The aliens stranded in a foreign land, are mistreated and homesick. While it operates in a fictional realm District 9 presents gritty and realistic characters and narrative.

The references to xenophobia and politics do not take away from the film’s comedic inclination. Because it doesn’t take itself too seriously and because the protagonist is charismatic and funny, the scenes feel natural and plausible. Copley makes an impressive bid to be that bridge between the humans and the aliens. He represents the self and the other with apparent ease. The film is satirical and it is visually stunning. An important addition to the catalog of South African cinema.

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