Is District 9 Racist Against Nigerians?

I loved District 9. I'll admit, however, that I kept wondering throughout the whole thing why the gangster-types were all Nigerians. I figured there must be some kind of cultural reference I was missing. It bothered me somewhat, even though I still loved the movie. I think it had some important things to say about the nature of the "Other" and what it means to be human. We use that term as a synonym for kindness and mercy, but by and large I don't think humans tend to act in accordance with how we like to view ourselves.

In any case, I've been following some of the reactions to the same questions I had. One author who's blog I follow, Nnedi Okorafor, was very offended, and the whole Nigerian thing ruined the movie completely for her. Here is her post. And she's not the only one. There's been a lot of backlash on the internet by people who resent Nigerians being portrayed in such an unflattering light by the filmmakers. Some are calling for an apology by the film's director, Neill Blomkamp.

From Tola Onanuga at The Guardian UK, however, comes another perspective: Why District 9 Isn't Racist Against Nigerians. In it the author makes a case that the director portrayed the white corporate types and "MMU" employees as much more evil, that the film is intended to be a reflection of the inhumanity of all the humans in the story, and the evolution of the aliens from the ultimate "Other" to creatures who have more in common with us than we'd like to think.

Both of the above authors, by the way, are of Nigerian descent.

So what's the opinion here? Is District 9 racist? Are some humans deliberately set apart as "worse" than others?

I tend to think the originality of the story, the relevance to issues the whole world faces relating to race, and the superb film-making that went into the movie ultimately override any concerns I have about which human group is depicted as the most evil.

Still, though, it nags me...did it have to be Nigerians?

11 September 2009


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