The science-fiction film ‘District 9’ is currently on cinematic release within the United Kingdom. Based on the short film ‘Alive in Joburg’, this feature film uses documentary style camera work to describe the plight of a large number of extraterrestrials that have become marooned on Earth. Referred to by humans using the derogatory term ‘prawns’, these aliens are confined to a militarised ghetto, where they face prejudice, discrimination, and exploitation.
With the film being set in South Africa, this has obvious parallels with the treatment of the black population during the apartheid era. This has been emphasised by the viral-marketing campaign for the film, which featured ‘humans only’ signs affixed to numerous public facilities, clearly mirroring the ‘whites only’ signs of apartheid. Consequently, the film joins a series of others that have utilised the medium of science-fiction to make social commentary on ‘real-world’ issues.
Rather ironically for an allegory about racism, however, ‘District 9’ has itself been accused of being racist, owing to its unflattering portrayal of Nigerians as gangsters, prostitutes and witch-doctors. This can be seen to follow the common practice of attributing negative characteristics to foreign nationality out-groups.
Whilst a return to the extremes of apartheid may seem unlikely , it is apparent that xenophobia is still prevalent within contemporary society. For example, the ‘Red White and Blue Festival’ of the far-right British National Party (BNP) took place recently only a few miles from my home. Clearly, the BNPs goal of keeping Britain British through the ‘repatriation’ of ethnic minorities has much in common with the ‘District 9’ tag-line of ‘You are not welcome here’.
Official ‘District 9’ website
Film review from the Guardian
Pearson, A. R., Dovidio, J. F. & Gaertner, S. L. (2009). The Nature of Contemporary Prejudice: Insights from Aversive Racism