District 9: You Are Not Welcome Here
District 9, is the highly anticipated feature length directorial debut of Canadian-based South African director Neill Blomkamp. Filmed in and around Johannesburg and Soweto, the movie is based on Blomkamps’ Alive in Joburg short film (watch it at the bottom of this post), and tells the story of aliens living amongst us, right here in Johannesburg.
In fact, the action takes place some 28 years after the insectoid aliens arrive and are forced to abandon their fuel-depleted mothership in a stationery hover over the Jozi city centre. Placed into a restricted-access internment camp (the titles’ District 9) whilst their human hosts debate what to do with them, the government contracts a private security consultancy, Multi National United, to monitor the aliens.
Wikus van de Merwe (played, by all accounts, very well by South African Sharlto Copley) an MNU agent, is tasked with the onerous job of serving eviction notices on the aliens as they need to be moved to a new “location”. During one of these servings, van de Merwe takes on a dose of alien DNA, and all of a sudden becomes the most important human on earth. It turns out that human governments and corporations are very keen to get hold of the alien weapons technology (naturally!) but the advanced weaponry is only able to function when used by the aliens. van de Merwe’s evolving DNA structure makes him the only human able to use the weapons, and he rapidly goes from mid-level administrative employee to a very valuable commodity.
The movies’ viral marketing campaign launched almost a year ago, with the appearance of sinister “Humans Only” signage, a number of very impressive (and immersive) websites, and even publically staged demonstrations in some major cities internationally – notably most of these were held by faux non-discrimination protesters calling for alien-rights and tolerance towards the outsiders.
The underlying analogies to apartheid, forced removals, xenophobic locals, racism (or should that be “specism”?) and the references to South Africa’s unsavoury past (District 6, “Whites Only” signs, townships, segregation, etc.) are all obvious. But this is not a political movie. It’s a science-fiction story, in the true Hollywood blockbuster tradition. Produced by Peter Jackson (Lord of the Rings, King Kong, Halo), with a budget of just US$30-million, pre-release reviews are very positive.
Visiting the movies’ official web site, and watching the trailers and promotional material for the movie, is an almost surreal thing. Seeing areas of Johannesburg marked as “Restricted to Aliens Only”, places on maps that I know well marked with “Alien Incident Reported”, and scenes shot in places familiar to me, but showing completely alien (sorry!) events (like the explosion outside the entrance to the Carlton Hotel where I worked for many years!) are all a little disconcerting.
Personally, I can’t wait for the local release on 28 August (just two weeks after the official US premier on the 14th).
Some more District 9 resources:
D-9: The official movie web site. A bit heavy on the bandwidth down here, but well worth the experience. Went through it as a human first, and then as an alien. Awesome.
MNU Spreads Lies: A blog site supposedly written by the alien named “Christopher”. Click on the “Translate to English” links to have the alien script converted. Be sure to watch the video clips of the anti-discrimination protests. Very believable.
District 9 reviewed on the Sci-Fi Movie Page
District 9 is based on Blomkamps’ original Alive in Joburg short film: