Movie Mom

Movie Mom


‘District 9′ — About Racism or Racist?

posted by Nell Minow

“District 9″ is one of the best-reviewed films of the 2009. Entertainment Weekly put it on the cover and called it the must-see movie of the summer. Most critics described it as a thinking person’s action movie because it presents its humans vs. aliens story in the context of apartheid and other historic incidents of racial, religious, and ethnic separation.
Desson Thomson, one of my favorite critics, said in The Wrap:

What’s ingenious about “District 9″ (co-written and directed by South African born Neill Blomkamp) is the way it cannily appropriates symbols and clichés of the apartheid regime of South Africa — the snarling dogs, the barefoot kids, the depressing shanty houses, the dust, poverty and hopeless — and repurposes them into a stunning sci-fi movie.

It’s our recognition of those symbols that gives the movie heft. We are watching apartheid in parenthesis. And yet, we are seeing it in an entirely different light.

But at least two African-American critics believe that the film perpetuates stereotypes more significantly than it addresses racism. Frequently contrarian critic Armond White of the New York Press has been attacked by fanboys and other critics for his scathing review of the film. White says that it:

suggests a meager, insensitive imagination. It’s a nonsensical political metaphor. Consider this: District 9′s South Africa-set story makes trash of that country’s Apartheid history by constructing a ludicrous allegory for segregation that involves human beings (South Africa’s white government, scientific and media authorities plus still-disadvantaged blacks) openly ostracizing extraterrestrials in shanty-town encampments that resemble South Africa’s bantustans.

It’s been 33 years since South Africa’s Soweto riots stirred the world’s disgust with that country’s regime where legal segregation kept blacks “apart” and in “hoods” (thus, Apartheid) unequal to whites. District 9′s sci-fi concept celebrates–yes, that’s the word–Soweto’s legacy by ignoring the issues of self-determination (where a mass demonstration by African students on June 16, 1976, protested their refusal to learn the dominant culture’s Afrikaans language). District 9 also trivializes the bloody outcome where an estimated 500 students were killed, by ignoring that complex history and enjoying its chaos. Let’s see if the Spielberg bashers put-off by the metaphysics in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull will be as offended by District 9′s mangled anthropology.

District 9 represents the sloppiest and dopiest pop cinema–the kind that comes from a second-rate film culture. No surprise, this South African fantasia from director Neill Blomkamp was produced by the intellectually juvenile New Zealander Peter Jackson. It idiotically combines sci-fi wonderment with the inane “realism” of a mockumentary to show the South African government’s xenophobic response to a global threat: Alien-on-earth population has reached one million, all housed–like Katrina refugees or Soweto protesters–in restricted territories.

White says that the aliens in the movie want to go home while the blacks in South Africa wanted to stay and engaged in one of the most stirring and peaceful revolutions in history. And White also objects to the portrayal of black Nigerian gangsters. “These malevolent blacks are also grinning cannibals who later threaten Wikus’ life. They’re a new breed of racist swagger; the kingpin sits in a wheelchair, big, black and scary.”
I have been a fan of DC Girl@The Movies for a long time and especially like her essay on the failures of most movies about racism. Her comments on “District 9” are insightful and thought-provoking. Like White, she objects to the portrayal of the black Africans as “Ooga-booga negroes who think *eating* the aliens will somehow give them their ~*magic*~, gun-toting gangstas, hos, and yes, we even have a barely-there sidekick who is repeatedly called ‘boy’.”
Another of my favorite critics, Cynthia Fuchs, says it is one more film that purports to be about racism but gives the heroics to the white man. “Racism provides the white guy with a very special growth experience.”
Slate’s Jonah Weiner took a friend who lived in South Africa to “District 9″ and wrote about their reaction in the site’s Brow Beat blog:

My friend was troubled by the depiction of the stranded aliens as “shiftless” “intergalactic schlubs,” as Dan puts it. There’s something unsavory, he argued, in director Neill Blomkamp portraying his allegorical shack dwellers as dumb, hapless, and helpless members of a community so thoroughly rent by poverty and oppression that the only hope for their betterment lies either in intervention from the outside (Wikus van der Merwe) or the lone efforts of an anomalous, intellectually advanced insider (the alien called Christopher Thompson). This logic can take on an infantilizing, unempowering aspect, he said, that denies oppressed parties agency, the ability to organize effectively from the ground up.

We were both uncertain about Blomkamp’s ultimate point about miscegenation, for lack of a better word, as represented by Wikus’s gooey transformation into a prawn. Right through the film’s final image, Wikus regards his othering from himself as a horror he wants reversed–he fights the evil MNU not out of virtue but out of self-interest and, in the process, becomes a microcosmic model for any “native” body that fears “foreign” contamination. The transforming/transformed Wikus isn’t the embodiment of post-racial harmony. Rather, the metamorphosis alienates him twice over, strands him between categories that are themselves left intact: He’s not a human and he’s not a “prawn,” either.

A couple of points here. First, I have been fascinated with the intensity of debate White’s review has engendered, including more than 500 comments on Rotten Tomatoes and a sort of defense of White from Roger Ebert, who at first said White was valuable because his ideas are outside of the mainstream and then wrote a second piece saying:

I realized I had to withdraw my overall defense of White. I was not familiar enough with his work. It is baffling to me that a critic could praise “Transformers 2″ but not “Synecdoche, NY.” Or “Death Race” but not “There Will be Blood.” I am forced to conclude that White is, as charged, a troll. A smart and knowing one, but a troll. My defense of his specific review of “District 9″ still stands.

Like Ebert, I think the comments by White are valid, and I’d add in the assessments by DC Girl and Fuchs as well. In my view, however, the movie is not intended to be so closely aligned with the specific events or individuals affected by apartheid, either the victims or the perpetrators and it would be a mistake to try to make it that way — overly didactic and heavy-handed. As I said in my review:

The film is more clever and ambitious than that. Just as the classic original “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” is claimed by both the right and the left as representing their side, this is a movie that is designed to be discussed and argued over. It is those conversations about Its meaning in light of the way that struggles with the notion of “the other” can inspire both the best and the worst of what it means to be human.



  • http://bigdaveblogger.blogspot.com Big_Dave_T

    DC Girl’s observations on District 9 being overrated were spot on, but I disagree that the movie particularly singled out blacks for ridicule. In my view, all races–white, black and bug–were caricatured in over-the-top comic book fashion. And I think that was the intent of the movie-makers.

  • http://www.examiner.com/x-9207-Baltimore-Movie-Examiner~y2009m8d15-Movie-review-District-9-9-out-of-10 Tom Clocker – Baltimore Movie Examiner

    Nell,
    Well said. I completely agree. As I said in my review (link above):
    “…if you go in with an open mind, and can appreciate the story for its general theme, without paralleling it to actual events, you will be very pleased.” [pleased at a great film, not the tragedies...obviously]
    The use of the apartheid THEME was ingenious. But, you have to remember, this is NOT a documentary of actual events, nor does it ever pretend to be.
    Go in with an open mind…come out pleased!
    Thanks,
    Tom Clocker
    Baltimore Movie Examiner

  • Don Smith

    I thought the movie was a poorly done metaphor for racism. The location for of South Africa was also a poor choice of locations in light of the horrific racist system there (Aparthied) that Africans are still trying to overcome its legacy.
    I have written a provactive book on racsim and critical thinking entitled “What I See: A new Prescription for Thought” (link below)
    http://www.eloquentbooks.com/WhatISee-ANewPrescriptionforThought.htm

  • http://blog.beliefnet.com/moviemom/ Nell Minow

    I love all of these comments, and the range of reactions to the movie they represent. I think that is a sign that the movie is intentionally ambiguous in order to permit many different perspectives and interpretations. Thanks for writing!

  • http://passiontounderstand.blogspot.com/ Emm

    “and engaged in one of the most stirring and peaceful revolutions in history”
    Um, no. Not the South Africa I grew up in anyway. I’ll have to see the film before I comment on White’s views but the revolution in South Africa was in no way peaceful. It was bloody, violent and deadly and resulted in a still violent society.

  • jestrfyl

    I saw the movie yesterday. I agree that there is rampant racism and wholesale stereotyping. But I do not necessarily agree with some of the other reviews. The Whites come off as violent, malevolent buffoons – I nominate the lead actor to play Steve Carell’s brother – it is as if “the Office” is visited by “Alien v. Predator”. The Colonel got exactly what he deserved – and you know he would, but you were never sure how. The blacks – mostly embodied by “the Nigerians” are not much better, but certainly more forthright. Not all the blacks are so poorly represented. Though he had few lines, the black trainee, as well as the armed guards, clearly had a clearer sense of what was possible and that the white’s plan was foolishness. Should the blacks have been noble defenders of the outcast “Prawns”. No they were as fallibly and horribly human (but not humane) as the whites. It shows there is racism in everyone. As they song from Avenue Q says, “Everyone’s a little bit racist sometimes”.
    The violence was off the charts and no one escapes blame or death. As to the issue of cannibalism and eating “the Prawns”. They looked a whole lot like southern spiny lobsters or enormous crickets. I don’t eat their terrestrial relatives, so drawn butter or not, they posed no appetizing feature or repulsion for me (though I doubt anyone could eat a lobster right after watching this movie).
    The sequel ought to be amazing – Oh, come on, they have to finish the story!

  • Chris

    “…she objects to the portrayal of the black Africans as “Ooga-booga negroes who think *eating* the aliens will somehow give them their ~*magic*~, gun-toting gangstas, hos, and yes, we even have a barely-there sidekick who is repeatedly called ‘boy’…”
    DC Girl at the Movies and Armond White can object all they want, but it doesn’t change the fact that D9 is a reflection of the reality in South Africa. I should know since I was born and raised in South Africa. I am also a white Afrikaner.
    In South Africa you have the liberal English who refer to white Afrikaners as “Dutch” or “Rock Spiders”. They have black workers serving them tea and they also bore the fruits of apartheid, but they do not consider themselves oppressors. Some Afrikaners call the English “Rooinekke” (Red necks). Some whites call the blacks “kaffirs”, mixed races are “hotnots” and Indians or Pakistanis are called “coolies”. The “liberal” English also use these terms. Black people call white people “Boere” or “Mlungu”.
    Obviously South Africa is now ruled by black people, with some white people pushing pencils in some government offices. We have also reached a point where we have as many black people driving Mercedes and BMW as there are white Afrikaners. However, most blacks are still dirt poor and uneducated, and some of them still prefer to call white people “boss” for some reason only known to them.
    It is however notable that more and more white Afrikaners are impoverished due to the fact that affirmative action in South Africa benefits the generic majority, which happens to be the black tribes. This is also the cause of what we call “the brain drain” over here. Because highly qualified white people are pushed aside to empower certain black people, white people are leaving the country at a rapid rate. I am one of the exports. But it’s not only white people leaving the country. Because of nepotism in government, qualified black people are also leaving the country! In fact, I know more black South Africans in the US than white South Africans!
    The metaphor of cannibalism used in District 9 is also rather accurate!
    A black man murdered a white family in Stellenbosch because a witch doctor told him that this act would cure his Aids. This black man killed two children and their parents with an axe!
    Some black men suffering from Aids also rape children because they believe that this can also cure Aids.
    The situation is so bad in South Africa that the South African Police have a unit who specialises in these sorts of medicinal murders. Children are killed for body parts that are dried, minced and drunk in potions. Thus, some black people do believe that they can gain the health of a child by eating the body parts of a child or engaging in sexual acts with a child.
    Nigerian and Congolese drug lords are also a big problem here. However, our own black gangs are also rather violent.
    Believe it or not, but District 9 has got most of the metaphors on the money! South Africa has the highest crime rate, a white man cannot get a decent job, and everybody is a racist (even the blacks)! Yet I would go back tomorrow if I only could. What a country!

  • http://www.iSteve.blogspot.com Steve Sailer

    It’s amusing how everybody in America except a handful of observant African-American critics thinks this is an “apartheid allegory” even though Neill Blonkamp, an Afrikaner whose family was driven out of South Africa by the black crime wave under Mandela when he was 17, keeps giving interviews making clear that this is a post-Apartheid parable.

  • http://blog.beliefnet.com/moviemom/ Nell Minow

    Thanks to everyone for the comments. I especially appreciate hearing from those who have lived in South Africa and can bring that perspective to the conversation. Yes, there was violence in the South African revolution but it was minor and unsanctioned compared to other regime changes. Steve, read the White and DC Girl comments again. They are indeed observant but they both criticized the film because they thought it was an ineffective and inaccurate apartheid allegory, not because it wasn’t one at all. As I have said, I believe it is not intended as a point-by-point allegory about apartheid but a provocative story with overtones of many different political and historical events and struggles.

  • Your Name

    You just need to read the comments made by Chris to get an idea of how white people think in South Afrika. If white people are poor because of Affirmative Action why are the blacks poor(is it because they are a bunch of dumb savages?). Crime affects more blacks than whites, poverty affects more blacks than whites. No doubt muti murders do happen in the country but they are a minority, the problem is that not all blacks are cannabils and not all blacks rape children because they think there is acure for Aids. Out of the 40 million blacks these are committed by like 5%. So why portray all blacks this way.

  • http://blog.beliefnet.com/moviemom/ Nell Minow

    Your Name, as I have said many times on this site, the first rule of debate is to characterize the argument of the other side accurately. You have not done so here. Your version of Chris’ post is slanted and exaggerated. Read what Chris said again — the post is careful not to do exactly the kind of generalization that you have done, and your rebuttal is addressed to points that Chris never made. Indeed, your statement is more of a generalization (“how white people think in South Afrika”) than anything Chris said.

  • carl

    Being an African /black American and sci-fi fan, I had no idea what D9 was about; I’d only seen some stellar reviews and figured it couldn’t be any worse than the remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still. Look, I’ve never been to S.African and am not an expert of all the subtleties there … and I have no problem with a a movie that depicts an African or African American as a (fill in the blank pejorative); but, in some movies, what keeps such a depiction from being “racist” as opposed to “realistic” (or reasonably so) is a certain measure of subtlety. Subtlety is what the portrayal of the Nigerians sorely lacked; even mean/bad/sociopathic people are 3-dimensional; it’s the 3-D aspect that allows us to take them seriously. Even the most vile persons in history have someone who loved them and how affection for someone else. The Nigerians to me seemed barbaric without context; i.e., how did they get that way? What mix of animist and Christian religions informs their behavior? Not that the director had to address my specific questions but having addressed questions like that would have, for me, made the Nigerians real. Instead, it just struck me as the kind of portrayal of Africa and Africans that misses the subtlety of the place. Yes, I know that a movie can’t show everything nor address everyone’s concerns; but I walked out of D9 not feeling good, wondering why in so many movies (e.g. the most recent Transformers) these bluntly crafted portrayals of black people always seems to survive the final cut. Again, I can take reality: Not all black people are heroic or noble (despite people who seem to think that our recent historical experience should have left us without paradoxes and contradictions); some of us do horrible stuff (e.g., the “child soldiers” in too many African conflicts; crime) and others are magnificent. Okay, fine. And I accept that the only way to talk about more than, literally, a handful of people is use generalizations — but it’s precisely what constructs those generalizations that we have to keep our eye on. That’s our subtlety, and if we can get the subtlety right then maybe we at least have a chance of getting the debate right.

  • http://blog.beliefnet.com/moviemom/ Nell Minow

    Carl, I am so grateful to you for this comment. Your insight and honesty are deeply appreciated. The difference in reaction to this film from Africans and black African-Americans is fascinating. I cannot speak from an African perspective, but as an American the narrow range of the black gangster characters in this film was jarring for me, too.

  • carl

    Thanks, Nell … as I think more about D9 and its portrayal of the Nigerians and my comments about subtlety, I think a parallel movie is “Black Hawk Down.” Now, I’d read the book BHD before I saw the movie; and as I recall, not surprisingly, the book offered a lot more context for who those warring Somalis were and what they were about (I’m not saying it was a history of recent Somali history, but it was enough). So, when I saw the movie BHD with a friend of mine my friend was upset that Somalis were portrayed as just heathens; in my mind, I kept thinking about the greater context, so I didn’t have her reaction (although I could see it) … What is also at work in almost any film portrayal of Africa viewed by Americans (and others) is the ignorance of (all races of) Americans when it comes to Africa. Again, I’m no Africa expert, but the kind of ignorance I’m talking about is very basic (geography, language, etc) and when combined with the “historical” view of Africa allows for the portrayal in D9 to further cement (in the “Western” mind) a non-subtle, unrealistic view of Africa. For example, in the U.S. we often refer to Africa as if its one thing or one place where just one language is spoken; we often don’t make a distinction b/n the north and south and east and west … and we don’t even speak of Egypt as if it’s on the African continent … so, the “Dark Continent” is where we start in our minds rather than a place we would have to be led to. So, if we start at the Dark Continent we are starting at a point of greatly reduced subtlety. To me, what all this lack of subtlety means is that the ugliness in Africa again lacks context when we see it on CNN or Fox of wherever — yes, we get the clips of the latest horror but with such sparse coverage the horror seems to only be horror for horror’s sake. No surprise that I might be more (or less) sensitive to this than someone else.
    All the conversation that the movie has generated about who commits what crime in S. Africa, affirmative action in S. Africa, black corruption, double-standards with regard to who can or can’t talk about race is conversation about human behavior and cultures. People may all be the “same” but “cultures” certainly aren’t. And one might rightly ask why, if in the late 1950s, Korea and Ghana were in similar positions with regard to gross domestic products or some other basic measurement like this, why has Korea surged ahead (and Ghana is one of the most stable West African countries)? Even better, why isn’t Nigeria the superpower in Africa? If you don’t know many Nigerians, believe me, they are very, very smart; there are over 100 million of them; they have oil; they are entreprenurially (sp?) creative … but they have a muslim north and christian south, the perception of government by the people and leaders has not lead to the kind of leadership the country needs … I’ll leave to those who know more to make further comparisons and distinctions, but I would just say as humans it’s easy for us to ask the other guy why he can’t get it together … and without a subtle perspective, it’s easy to believe we know why.
    Anyway, I’m left puzzled by what the director/writer of D9 hoped that the Nigerian characters would “say” or represent? That superstition holds back “black” Africa? Too many guns, too much violence? That the powerful seek to simply eat us, or that by eating us they extend their life and end ours? Assuming that he meant for some larger question to be conveyed, well, for me he I completely missed it.

  • http://blog.beliefnet.com/moviemom/ Nell Minow

    Carl, you are right about American ignorance of Africa, even greater than our ignorance of other parts of the world (not to mention our own country). It is like people in other countries thinking that everyone in America is either insanely rich or a drug dealer. But understandable, based on the images in the movies and television programs we export.
    Have you seen “The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency” series on HBO? It is based on a series of books written by a white Scot who was born in what is now Zimbabwe and was educated there and returned after becoming a lawyer in Scotland to work in Botswana, so he has both an insider and outsider perspective, very useful for a writer. The series is very well done and it does a good job of conveying the kind of context and depth and range you are looking for, at least in one part of one country, Botswana. Movies like “Tutsi” and “Moolaadé” also are frank about some of the challenges in Africa without ignoring the underlying humanity of all of the people involved. They will never be big box office successes like “District 9″ (subtlety doesn’t sell a lot of tickets and neither one has any aliens). But they are there for those who are willing to open our hearts to them. I will also recommend “Water” (India), “Secret Ballot” (Iran), and “Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles” (China and Japan) as superb films that are truthful in the specifics of their place and culture and in the transcendent humanity that connects us all.

  • carl

    I am familiar with the No. 1 series, but I haven’t seen the HBO series … I didn’t see “Water” but I saw “Fire” … don’t think I’ve seen the other films although I’ve known about “Tutsi” … you know, it’s very telling what we’re so ready to believe about “black” Africa … we wouldn’t have found credible a white gangster who was a cannibal (although, the only “cannibals” I know of were late 20th century white American serial killers), but so ready to believe that Nigerians are so ready to eat us … don’t know if you’ve seen “The Hurt Locker,” but what’s so good about it is that at every point when the movie could have fallen into the cliche of the standard war flick the trap was not only avoided but more character revealed (I’m new to your blog so I haven’t checked all your film reviews).

  • shoeontheotherfoot

    the aliens in this movie ranged from someone’s idea of black people to someone’s idea of where to put the native americans to someones idea of what america should do in/with iraq, pakistan & afghanistan.
    this movie came off like a sci-fi version of “Crash” for me, with much less affect.
    to see this movie regarded so highly by critics as well as viewers makes me realize that “new” america is very ignorant of the atrocities committed, if not allowed to continue (legally), by “old” america on many people of color.
    the thing this movie did well is show that the oppressor is “normally” unaware of his prejudices and very unwilling to acknowledge & correct them. if you are white, thoroughly enjoyed this movie and can’t appreciate why people of color always seem to view “entertainment” through the lens of race, learn history. as in this movie, when these things start to happen to you it’s not just entertainment anymore.
    lastly, in response to carl’s statement on child soldiers. it’s a very sad situation but these kids are drugged & deceived from a very early age. so, in respectful contrast to what you said, the black people doing horrible stuff are a) not the kids themselves b) in some cases, not those drugging & deceiving them as they too were drugged & deceived from an early age c) those who initiated this foolishness a long time ago and d) those, including us, who are too afraid or comfortable to fight for them and their families (and captors in some cases) to stop being afraid of freedom. think of nazi germany, hitler went after & recruited very young kids, some of who never realized that what hitler told them was completely wrong – even after the whole operation was taken down. they deserve grace as much as any of us.
    jesus saves.

  • http://blog.beliefnet.com/moviemom/ Nell Minow

    Thanks, shoeontheotherfoot, for a thoughtful comment, much appreciated. It is impossible not to see through the lens of race, no matter who you are and what race or races are in your heritage. It’s like the two doors to the Los Angeles Museum of Tolerance. One is for people who are prejudiced. The other is for people who are not. That second door does not ever open — everyone who enters the museum must acknowledge that no one is free from prejudice. The best we can try to do is be aware of it.
    And it is movies like this one that are a part of that process. I am white and enjoyed, or I should say, appreciated the movie because it sharpened my sense of “the lens of race.” Whether it is seen as an allegory for apartheid, the holocaust, ethnic cleansing, the conflict in Northern Ireland, or the genocides of Cambodia, Rwanda, and many other countries, the experience of the main character as he begins to be aware of how unaware he has been is what makes it a compelling story. I agree with you entirely that “th thing this movie did well is show that the oppressor is ‘normally’ unaware of his prejudices and very unwilling to acknowledge and correct them.” And for me that is an important and very worthy element of the film.
    I appreciate your gracious comments in response to Carl and the generosity you extend to those who are victims as well as perpetrators, or perpetrators because they were victims, and I especially appreciate your call to each of us to take responsibility for allowing these atrocities. Thank you for making an important contribution to the discussion.

  • http://blog.beliefnet.com/moviemom/ Nell Minow

    Thanks, Carl. If you do see “No 1″ or “Tutsi,” let me know what you think. I suspect the impression of some cannibalism in Africa stems in part from allegations in the trial of Charles Taylor, where he denied that he had ever participated but admitted that it did occur in his country of Liberia. I hope to review “Hurt Locker” at some point but have not as yet had a chance to.

  • carl

    To Shoeontheotherfoot:
    With regard to the child soldiers in Africa, I was simply pointing out that it’s a horror and not that the children should be viewed as having freely chosen to go down that path … and, yes, many of the people who recruit the children were once children who’d been sucked in themselves … but this raises, for me, the question of causation, a question that seems to always be on the table even if not described as such; i.e., at what point is a victim or victim’s descendants no longer able to make a credible argument that X act(s) is the reason for their situation? When Robert Mugabe was first elected (late 70s or early 80s, I think) even within a few years the Western press was claiming he hadn’t done this or that. To me, the charge was unfair given the history that he was working to overcome. But what about today, after his many years in “power”? You can hear in discussions in the U.S. about slavery having been “a long time ago,” etc., etc (I would dispute that it was all that long ago; in historical terms, let alone cosmological terms, it certainly wasn’t). I would say that while human memory may make one feel that there is a great distance between this or that thought or feeling or even practice, when structures and institutions and behaviors were built upon or integrated with prejudices/biases/etc/etc then the question of causation is not as simple as it might seem … which leads me to say this about Mugabe (I’m just using him as an example): he or any other leader of Zimbabwe held the political power but not the economic power, and the road to “flipping the script” (minus the bigotry) is a road that will take longer than a generation or two … but causation is a big thing for us humans … I’m in my late 40s and know that the memory and understanding of race relations in the U.S. is not necessarily shared/understood/appreciated by many people much younger than I am (and I don’t mean to imply that my views are the correct ones that others must understand) … but I can remember the times in the 60s in which if a commercial came on television and a black person was in that commercial I could tell you which part of the commercial that person was in or how many shots were of that person, etc. Even today, I still do that because I know that every aspect of a commercial is the result of a decision. For someone growing up today, it’s totally different (heck, one of the Fruit of the Loom guys is black!) All this is to say that the passage of time and, at the minimum, a change in the “visuals” are the type of things that push us towards viewing causation as a matter of time, not structure. As with many things, how one views causation is matter of where one sits; for example, if you get a chance, go read some of the veto messages by president Andrew Johnson (which almost got him impeached). One of the things that struck me in one of those messages was that it sounded so very much like racial debates during today, i.e. his strong fear that the govt was favoring the slave to the disadvantage of the “white man”. First time I read that I just shook my head: people less than a few years out of slavery (barely educated, if at all, no property, etc) were all of a sudden taking things away from the white man? With that kind of thinking, it’s no wonder that people would say to “get over slavery” b/c it was long ago … and contrast that with how the U.S. developed its Cold War policy toward the Soviets: U.S. thinkers readily acknowledged that Russia’s long history of insecure borders was a driving force behind making its border states satellites. I was always struck how some in the U.S. could admit that hundreds of years of history still affected Russian thinking today, but deny that hundreds of years of slavery should still affect black people.
    Anyway, I’m on vacation and off the gym :-)

  • melissa

    see i am confused! why is everything that portrays African Americans automatically “RACISTS”? i just think everyone needs to get over it and just quit throwing the race card,just because we have a black president it seems everyone thinks they are going to get what they want and it sickens me when i see this kind of “there racists” crap….cant we all just get the heck along!

  • http://blog.beliefnet.com/moviemom/ Nell Minow

    Melissa, I can see that you are confused. I hope very much that having an African-American President will open the door to more honest conversations about race. It is a beginning, not an end. Did you see the movie? Did you read the comments? If you did, I doubt you would be able to characterize the concerns as the “race card.” And I’m pretty sure calling it “crap” won’t make it any easier to “get the heck along.”
    I thought there were valid points on all sides, which is why I wrote the post.

  • JDBinc

    What makes this film so ugly to me is that the only sympathetic characters are either white (the protagonist and his angelic wife) or aliens. All blacks in the film are either cruel, barbaric, selfish or subservient.

  • http://blog.beliefnet.com/moviemom/ Nell Minow

    A very astute observation, JDBinc, thanks.

  • Jim Wiekson

    not sure if this movie is being racist or drawing parcels to racism
    do the racist test!
    imagine any other race doing what the movie depicts the nigerians “gangsters” to do.
    If you can’t think of any other people that would do such a thing… then it’s a racist film,
    but if you can think of 3 or more different race of people doing it… then it’s paradoxical.

  • http://blog.beliefnet.com/moviemom/ Nell Minow

    A good point, Jim, thanks! I suppose you could say that it would be like having it set in the US and making the gangsters all Italian Mafia (there were allegations of bigotry in the “Godfather” movies). I think in “District 9″ the Nigerian gangsters were a depiction of the consequences of a racist culture, like the treatment of the aliens.

  • Jessica

    the biggest problem with everyone getting their panties in such a wad over how ‘blacks’ were portrayed in this film is that it is NOT ABOUT BLACK PEOPLE! aliens are not black…they are freggin aliens. the black people were grouped in with the whites, and the rest of the human race for that matter. dont you get it? the aliens were meant to be on their own here…quit looking at the color of the actors’ skins and see what they are truely getting at here. once people realize that the humans were one entity against the aliens, the symbolism is truely gripping. the problem with everyone being so up in arms about this film being a poor portrayal of racism it seems is that the critics are not able to see beyond race themselves…even for the sake of metaphor and symbolism in their own favor.

  • http://blog.beliefnet.com/moviemom/ Nell Minow

    Jessica, the passion behind your comment is compelling but your point is not as clear. If the gripping symbolism you refer to is not about bigotry and inspired by apartheid, what is it symbolizing? All alien movies — and in a larger sense, all stories of any kind — are symbolic; that is their purpose. And the parallels in this movie are quite clear. No one is suggesting that it is a documentary. But its power as metaphor is shown by the very reactions it has prompted.

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