Sunday, February 28, 2010

Sunday Night Common Sense

Today I want to quote one of my favorite people in the entire world. My homegirl Barbara is a Black South African writer, mother, partner, scholar. We met in a PhD program in Women's Studies. I had asked her what her thoughts were regarding the film District 9 because all of the reviews were from a very US-centric space. She finally watched the film and agreed that I could share with you all her thoughts here:

I know I'm really late but finally saw District 9 after holding out on giving that fool my hard-earned money because I heard it was problematic.

It is an appalling piece of trash which appropriates South Africa's recent traumatic past and current social problems to serve up as entertainment. The forced removals, the discourse about the aliens not really understanding property ownership - all of these come from very recent white supremacist actions against and discourse about black south Africans. Word for word almost, these were the same things said about us. Even the armored vehicles used in the army invasion scenes were the very same vehicles used to terrorize us and shoot at us when I was growing up in a township in the 80s.

The camp in which the aliens live is a replica of similar camps which exist today, in which the SA government cordons off immigrants from elsewhere in Africa, supposedly for their own safety. Plus, millions of black South Africans live in conditioins just like those depicted in the alien settlement - I find it very disturbing that the film unproblematically displays these appaling housing conditions as part of a sci-fi dystopia, while millions of real people actually live like that. and of course, this is not to mention how cheap the sets must have been to create (just move a few black families out of their homes) in comparison to the profits this film has raked in.

The film trades in the worst stereotypes of African people (corrupt Nigerians; cannibalism, aliens stealing your shoes, setting alight cars and trains for entertainment - really? really?) - just another example of cultural violence inflicted upon African people. Within the first five minutes of starting to watch this, i could not believe that this film was allowed to be made or see the light of day! I can really not believe that someone would turn all these painful past events and steroetypes into fodder for white entertainment around the globe, and reinforce racist views of Africans as violent barbarians. I found it incredibly offensive.

Thanks Bianca for feeling my pain and helping me process it. Sure you can quote me on your blog. There's one thing I want to add, if you will allow me:

The title District 9 plays on the events of a settlement called District 6, which was a very vibrant part of urban Cape Town during the first part of the 20th century. It was racially mixed, cosmopolitan, and by most accounts a progressive, transgressive space. During the 60s-80s, the apartheid government systematically destroyed the community by forcibly removing the poeple who lived there and dumping them in ghettoes created on the outskirts of the city (my grandfather grew up there). They did this through extreme violence, by ripping people out of their homes, then buldozing the entire space, flattening it so that there were not even remnants of the people and place. They destroyed the community, and it is a really painful part of the indigenous people's history in Cape Town. The area is still a gaping hole and blight on the landscape where District 6 once stood - they never redeveloped it or did anything with it, just moved everyone out and destroyed the vibrancy of community.

So when i first heard the title of this movie, it was obvious that the filmmaker was referencing this space, and I assumed that he would be making some commentary on the injustice of its destruction, and the ongoing travesty of the urban space still standing empty whent there is a housing crisis in Cape Town that leaves many families homeless. At the very least, I expected that the memory of this place, which to me and many others borders on sacred, would be treated respectfully. But no, the memory was appropriated and exploited, embellished with these disgusting racist stereotypes of black people as violent savages, and served as entertainment.

OK, I think my rant is over - thanks again for listening! much love, B

DISCLAIMER: I only saw the first 1/2 hour


  1. This from my homegirl EAE

    I would never in a million years tell you how to feel about the painful events in your nation's past/present.
    ... See More
    And I say this might want to watch the whole movie all the way through.

    I too, thought thought the movie was very offensive and outright outlandish in the beginning but then I felt the theme switched halfway through.

    In the end, it becomes clear that the aliens are simply judged for being different and are in fact brilliant, which I felt shed light on how ignorant the oppressors in the movie actually were. I sensed this was the point of the movie, but it could not articulate this point until demonstrating how hateful the oppressors were first. In this sense, I felt the movie was a commentary on real-life inhumanity set in action-form to reach people who normally would not care.

    This is just my take and maybe I am completely wrong because at the end of the day, I am truly sorry for any movie that would bring up such painful memories for you.

    Sincerely and Respectfully Yours,

  2. I did see the whole movie in its entirety and i can see where you are coming from but i disagree w/the middle/ending of film being a change in direction from my perspective. i think there is so much we dont know that has happened in the decolonization of SA, that is still underway and to use historical reality and apply it to a "sci fi" film is, in... See More my opinion, dehumanizing which is exactly what happened in actual events. Its not witty or clever or something "new" with all of the media that is being crafted in Africa, specifically in SA, and to have THIS be the 1 representation we have in a mass hollywood production is triflin'.

    I put this film in the same category as 'crash' where it tries to do something but it actually just fucks shit up even more. and i know there are tons of ppl who disagree w/me and that's cool. i think it speaks volumes that a Black South African woman who survived apartheid can't even stomach any more than 30 min of the film that US folks consumed en masse. What's that say about US/us? What's it say about me that i could sit through it, huff and puff, and go about my life 2 hours later but for others it reopens a wound so deep in just minutes?

    media is hella powerful.

  3. i agree mostly w EAE but I feel there will need to be a sequel in order bring it full circle.
    And while remaining sensitive to Barbara's personal anguish, it is not prudent to do anything halfway and ascribe judgement.

    lastly i hated sci-fi for most of my life but started getting into sun ra as i matured. i realised this was still sci fi but from an afrikan-centred perspective. maybe do a google search: afrofuturism.
    upgrade your brain matter cuz one day it may matter :)

    frank talk

  4. from Barbara:
    thanks for weighin in EAE. I get your point about sitting through the whole film, but would you sit through a klu klux rally to see how it ends? I am of the belief that I do not have to tolerate violence being inflicted upon me. I felt that this film was an act of epistemic violence committed against me, and felt no need to continue watching. After watching Nigerians depicted as cannibals, nothing would have redeemed the film for me.