"District 9" Director Neill Blomkamp,starring Sharlto Copley.


By Gaetana Caldwell-Smith

It is unfortunate that the excellent, low-budget, allegorical, sci-fi film, “District 9,” is no longer in theatres especially now that ugly anti-immigrant sentiment is on the rise here and in Europe - - the Netherlands, particularly. Director Neill Blomkamp, a native of South Africa, had witnessed apartheid first hand. His film transcends the big-budget sci-fi blockbusters in many ways, most important in its message.

The set up is that a monstrous impenetrable, mysterious space ship is hovering over Johannesburg. For two decades, its thousands of human sized, crustacean-like beings from another planet have been quarantined by the South African government in a township-like compound called District 9. Guarded by the military, they live on bare land in shacks of corrugated iron, wood, and scrap. Unlike South African blacks during apartheid, the beings, called prawns by the Joburgians, have not been given passes or ID cards so can never leave. They can’t get jobs, so scavenge; the government allows them crates of canned cat food to which they not only have become addicted, but use it to barter. Now their population has outgrown the district; they are to be evicted and moved to a larger compound.

The film is shot partly documentary style as cameras follow Wikus Van De Merwe (Sharlto Copley), an inept, naïve low-level government bureaucrat who works for MNU (Multi-National United), who has been put in charge of the relocation (think Steve Carrell of “The Office”). Accompanied by a translator and military back-up, they enter the compound smashing in doors, and forcing unwilling tenants to sign a form authorizing their move. The aliens, with shrimp like faces, speak in a clicking gibberish (subtitled) with an Arnold Schwarzenegger cadence. It’s evident not only by the fact of the space ship but also by powerful weapons that they have built and only they can operate that the aliens have a superior intellect. Of course, the government and the military want to tap into it. Aliens begin “disappearing” and end up in on slabs in labs for study. De Merwe enters the alien Christopher’s shack while he and his "mini-me" son are away; he finds a pile of old computers and other sophisticated electronic equipment along with a canister of some strange black liquid which he inadvertently squirts in his face, resulting in his gradual transformation, thus making him more valuable to his employers.

Blomkamp gives us an inside look at life in such a place where rebel Nigerians exploit the aliens, and prostitution is rampant. The issue of such alien and Nigerian unions (and there are hints of this), like mix race kids in the US since forever, face discrimination. (Recently, in some Southern state, a pastor refused to marry a black man and a white women basing concerns for the hardships their kids would face. Then someone gave an example: Barack Obama.)

“District 9” was written and directed in such as way as to have audiences sympathize with the aliens. The white South African bureaucrats are lying, small-minded, compassionless and cruel; the military, faceless thugs. You feel compassion for Wikus by the film’s end and develop an affinity towards Christopher and his small son, whom he treats like any protecting dad, warning him away from danger. Still, at a crucial moment, his son demonstrates the technical skill to run a space ship.
As of this writing, the film is not on DVD. Until it is, go to the official website at www.district9.com for trailers and more information, and push for a re-issue.