COMMENT: DISTRICT 9 AND THE NIGERIANS

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Nigerian-born, Brooklyn writer, Teju Cole, writing in Nigeria’s NEXT newspaper:

Even making allowances for the fact that [District 9] is a fable, with strong elements of satire and allegory, the one-dimensionality of the Nigerian characters is striking.

The Nigerians live in District 9 with the prawns, and sell cat food to them (the prawns are cat food addicts) in exchange for weapons. In addition, the Nigerians run a prostitution ring (renting out their women for sex with the aliens) and occasionally murder prawns to use for juju.

In other words, the most violent and offensive clichés of Nollywood have been grafted onto the film, without the humanising, narrative context of Nollywood.

The decontextualization is brought home by the fact that the Nigerian gang-leader is actually named Obasanjo (no, I couldn’t believe my ears either), and these so-called Nigerians all speak Zulu.

This raises the questions of why Blomkamp, who is so scrupulously realist in other parts of the film, has chosen to depict his Nigerian characters as caricatures. One possibility is that he is trying to extend the film’s larger argument: that we are callous to strangers among us.

It is a fact that Nigerian immigrants in South Africa are often persecuted, stereotyped as drug dealers and prostitutes, and denied housing and jobs. Perhaps Blomkamp is simply holding up a mirror to society, reminding his viewers that the film is not about humanoid prawns who, after all, do not really exist, but rather about people, who do.

‘District 9,’ which has been read by most critics as an allegory of apartheid (parallels have been drawn to forced removals from the real-life District Six in Cape Town during the 70s), might be more profitably viewed through the lens of ongoing anti-foreigner sentiment in South Africa.

There’s a particular harshness in the violence that the disenfranchised mete out to the even more disenfranchised. Perhaps this is why the Nigerians in the film are depicted as sub-human: because, to many, they are.

Perhaps he wants audiences to ask: why do you have such a lurid imaginary notion of Nigerians? Why this need to designate others as barbarians? Or perhaps it is simply a massive blindspot on Blomkamp’s part, a failure that mars what is otherwise a remarkable work of art.

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7 thoughts on “COMMENT: DISTRICT 9 AND THE NIGERIANS

  1. I totally disagree on the talk of racism
    Films has always been polarizing, and the best films are always polarizing, and sometimes magnifying
    If you need documentaries look at documentaries point
    I don’t by no means imply that District 9 is so good
    But have you seen http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0783532/ (Jerusalema 2008)
    I find that movie to be very good and is taking place in the same country and depicts Nigerians in practically the same way. Now I am not excusing the one with the other, rather simply saying let’s not try to go to arms and try to make all films politically correct and polished. Rather let it simply flow and if you like it look at it, if not, well skip it. The market will at the end tell what’s right or not, or maybe I am wrong, hell, what do I know, but I found District 9 OKAY as entry science fiction movie from Africa, but the other refered earlier much better. Am I going to feel guilty about finding it good and enjoyed it?

  2. scrupulously realist? maybe in look/ aesthetic but not in nuanced people. The whitey werent developed either. Like cartoon bad guys on both sides made this film seem just kinda… dumb. like what are you saying about ‘the way poverty drives you to prey on more poor’ or ‘institutional racism’ if you just show them as portrayed by murderous psychopaths? Like the mixing blockbuster baddies into a really complex set of issues, and then pretending like it says something about those issues? I really dont get this film…

  3. I wondered about the portrayal of “the Nigerians” (not just some Nigerians but “the Nigerians” ) in this movie. Were they presented as a cliche because that is the way South Africans view them and Bloukamp was making a point, or was he just into the cliche and using them to spice up his movie?

    I thought it was a pretty interesting and good movie but I didn’t know what to make of “the Nigerians”.

  4. This is really overanalysis of something that is supposed to be entertainment… thinking that the director had all of these incredibly complex subtle intentions is a little ludicrous. Ask the guy – he’ll probably say “uh – thought it looked cool that way”.

    Why not stop picking apart somebody else’s work and just create something that is strongly pro-Nigerian if you feel so strongly about it! Creation is a much better thing than criticism.

  5. J you sound stupid, of course the director though it through!

    Over analysis? Its a film, even the film critics will analyse it!

    Its blatantly discriminating towards Nigerians, whether it’s because he thinks that way or he thinks South Africans feel that way is for him to answer.

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