Maybe someone thought it would be a brilliant idea to combine a touching story of refugee camp residents with the excitement of an alien invasion. It turns out that whoever came up with that brilliant idea was wrong.
I'll tell you what, you guys: I'm the one who was wrong.
I stood strong on my anti-District 9 stance despite rave reviews--both online and offline--from people whose opinions I deeply respect. (Click here and here, for example, to see reviews from media scholar Henry Jenkins.) Then I read this review (warning: spoilers) by Andries du Toit, which was followed up a week later by an even more insightful set of "further thoughts" on the film.
du Toit, in this post as well as in a follow-up, picks up on the very issues that made me dislike the film. Of course, he did so much more thoughtfully than I did. My biggest problem with the movie was apparent racism in its depiction of black Africans, made more frustrating when contextualized within a movie that ostensibly wanted to problematize that very issue. Here's how du Toit, apparently a white South African living in Cape Town, explains it:
I do think that the representation of the ‘Nigerians’ is the one place in the film where the movie falters in its ability to unpick the workings of racist ideology. Because, for all of these interesting complexities, the reality is that the movie does not obviously withdraw or complicate its apparent endorsement of the African stereotypes. There are ironies and complexities – but they are evident only to a fairly sensitive and conscious viewer. In fact, the film actively pushes these complexities in side. The crucial flaw, in fact, lies lies precisely in this: it relies for its narrative drive, for its satisfaction of the ‘adventure’, on the antagonism against (and the extermination of) the ‘Nigerians’. So even though the real villains are all white, and even though the movie subtly mocks xenophobic discourse, many audiences will no doubt identify with this ‘othering’, and will cheer when Wikus’s alien exoskeleton kills them all so picturesquely.
With that one caveat, however, du Toit finds much to value in District 9. He calls it
the best movie I have yet seen about South Africa – and specifically, one of the most penetrating, disconcerting and subversive meditations on the nature of racism and repression in the post-colonial world. District 9 is fresh and transgressive, hilariously funny and absolutely horrifying: brutal, sly, streetwise and in your face. It’s not a voice from the ghetto – it is, completely and incontrovertibly, a white voice – but is a voice from the postcolonial periphery; a voice speaking harshly, grittily and urgently about the surrealism of racism and the confluence of violence and normality here at the edges of the West’s old empire.
du Toit has convinced me when nobody else could. Therefore, I strongly recommend you disregard my negative review and go see the movie. Wait until you get home to read du Toit's review--it contains spoilers--but do read it. It's perhaps the smartest recent film review I've seen anywhere, online or off.