A 2009 film about aliens stranded on Earth as refugees in South Africa.
"District 9" is one of at least nine districts.
On a connotative level, "District 9" is separate from regular society. Districts are usually a title given to demilitarized zones and ghettos. Additionally, ghettos are synonymous with low income areas, particularly ones filled with racial minorities.
Separating peoples, particularly racial and religious minorities, into separate districts is deeply rooted in history, even current societies. It stems from a fear from the outside/unknown. Cultural exposure has proved the absurdity of racism and xenophobia, but it remains uncertain how we as a society would react if confronted with alien life forms, even if they were cultured and intelligent.
The progression of marginalization and stripping of rights of individuals has been a trend throughout human history. In District 9, the Prawns were initially stranded on Earth, and humanity felt pity for them. As it became more and more clear that the prawns would be permanent residents, humans began to despise them more and more. This parallels actual historic events like the first move of the Nazis to round up Jews in the “ghettos;” the Japanese Americans’ part in Internment Camps in the United States; the racial segregation of the Irish, Italians, Blacks, and Latinos in the United States; and finally, the racial segregation of Native South Africans and Whites during Apartheid. Apartheid is a racist political movement that stripped native Afrikaans of their rights and placed them urban areas, and District 9 is not subtle in its allegory to the Apartheid (Afrikaans for apart) in South Africa. The most famous being where 60,000 blacks were forcibly evicted from their homes in Johannesburg and compelled to live in the township of Soweto (an abbreviation for the Southwest Township). The film District 9 takes place in an isolated district of prawns, sharing the same name as the title of the film.
The prawns represent the black people of the Apartheid. This also carefully plays on the descriptions of Native Africans. The prawns in the film are extremely unhygienic. In some cases, the prawns seem to have trash literally fused to their exoskeletons. This subverts the racist stereotypes many people have placed on blacks from poorer regions of Africa. The aliens also talk in a series of clicks, quite obviously an allusion to the language of Swahili. In the plot, Wikus, the protagonist, finds himself becoming a prawn. This is a sort of deconstruction of the “white man gone native trope” in literature and in films.
District 9 takes the typical “white man gone native” trope, and runs in a different direction with it. In most such stories, the white man is so infatuated with the natives he has become acquainted with, that he becomes an honorary native. However, in District 9, when Wikus finds himself turning into a prawn, he is horrified and repulsed by it. He is callous to Christopher and his son Oliver, but he reluctantly agrees to help them, based on a shallow promise, that they will be able to return him to his human state in three years.
In the film, District 9 is riddled with barbwire and signs. Most of the signs read “No humans allowed,” but in the slums is an abundance of propaganda alluding to a cry for racial equality during apartheid with pictures of a dark skinned hand and a light skinned hand holding on to each other.
District 9's depiction of aliens struggling to coexist with humans is partially derived from the TV Show Alien Nation, but using science fiction to illustrate conflicts of racial injustice is nothing new, ie. 1968s Planet of the Apes.
District 9 ironically uses a white protagonist. Wikus is a horrible person, and we see this aspect played to its full extant when he incinerates baby prawns. His redemption in the film only comes when he realizes that he most likely can't go back to being a human. The ideology come from the notion that once we can realize the similarities between races, and see people as simply that, we, as a society can become less racist.
District 9 borrows much of it's story elements from past films and literature. It not only uses the racially allegorical elements of previously mentioned films: Planet of the Apes and Alien Nation, it also borrows elements from David Cronenberg's The Fly, a film where man is fused with a fly and slowly deteriorating both physical and mentally to become more insect than man. This concept of man turned insect was originally portrayed in Franz Kafka's "The Metamorphosis", a story of a man who wakes up one day, only to discover he has become and insect. In District 9, Wikus hit with a black fluid, made from the biological compound of the prawns' DNA, after this he slowly starts to become a prawn, and his slow progression from man to prawn is similar to the progression shown to Seth Brundle in The Fly.
Auteur Theory: The marginalization of minorities is a theme among Neil Blomkamp films. In Elysium, the allegory is immigration, particularly Mexican immigration and healthcare in the United States. In that film, many people try escape to a Space Colony run by the elite. Most of those people in the film are Latino, so the allegory is thinly veiled. His third film, Chappie, is a robot who is given consciousness and struggles with a sense identity, given his new self awareness. For a long time, been allegorical for human inequality, starting with Karl Kapek’s novel R.U.R (Rossum’s Universal Robots) about a robot uprising against their human masters. Even the word robot was coined from the word robota—the Czech word for “forced labor.”
District 9 is a film made for South Africans, and while the themes in the film are universal, BloBlompkamp's film is allegorical to the hardships in South Africa's past with the marginalization of blacks during aparthied. This film serves as a reminder that racial injustice remains in this world today, and we all should recognize our similarities as humans and break down the racial barriers in our society, fueled by ignorance and taught racism.