October Issue 2009

By | Arts & Culture | Movies | Published 15 years ago

Sometimes, the strongest, most effective political statements need to be couched in metaphor, with accompanying big-budget special effects, to make the message more palpable. That is what director Neill Blomkamp has done with District 9, a sci-fi movie that transcends its genre — much like Starship Troopers did more than a decade ago — to make a pungent point about identity politics and the ‘other.’

South African-born Blomkamp witnessed first-hand the indignities of Apartheid and it is that experience which informs his filmmaking. The opening of District 9 is similar to a million blockbuster movies that preceded it. An ominous alien spacecraft lands in a major American city. But this time there is a unique twist. The aliens are far from dangerous; in fact they are impoverished, starving and finding it hard to adjust to their new reality. In an unsubtle reference to the anti-immigrant fervour consuming the US, District 9 is about how the aliens (literal in this case) deal with their unwelcome hosts.

The aliens are moved from one shanty town to the other and Multi-National United, the corporation in charge of alien affairs, puts Sharto Copley in charge of looking after them. Copley, however, is infected with alien fluid and immediately becomes of interest to his employers since only aliens can deploy the vast arsenal that is at their disposal.

Copley’s transformation allows District 9 to ruminate on how physical appearances can affect relationship and the inevitability of shifting loyalties. At the same time, there is a constant stream of blood ’n guts to ensure the movie’s box-office appeal.

District 9 is shot entirely in the shaky hand-held camera style familiar to fans of The Blair Witch Project andCloverfield. This gives the impression that the movie is a documentary, an appropriate feel for District 9, which gives greater weight to its commentary on contemporary social matters than its sci-fi aspect.

Nadir Hassan is a Pakistan-based journalist and assistant editor at Newsline.