Friday, August 21, 2009

Reviewing District 9 - South African sci-fi flick

The first time I saw an African-made movie production in American theatres, it was Tsotsi. It was at a random cinema in Cambridge that showed mostly 'indie' movies. Yesterday, I saw my second, but this time in a more popular theatre (Century Cinema) and the movie was District 9. It's African-made alright but it has the influence of American Peter Jackson, so maybe that's why it made it to the giant Hollywood theatre circuit? District 9 has been the most talked about movie all week, and it's been a trending topic on Twitter for a week now. I was excited to see it and after seeing it, I agree it was a good movie. Don't listen to me though, listen to IMDB, they list it as the 31st best movie of all-time and clearly this year's best.

I sent an email to the Stanford Africans encouraging people to go see this African production. Before we could get to rallying the troops, someone had sent an email to Black Diaspora list calling District 9 the 'most abominable racist propaganda in years'. You could read about the movie and easily agree with her, but I think sometimes we take some things too seriously. Or is it just me? Particular mention was made of how Nigerians were portrayed in the movie. I decided to stop reading the many emails sent on the subject lest it spoiled the movie for me. After the way Nigerians were treated in Jerusalema, the last thing I needed was for them to bear the brunt of discrimination in another African-related movie, especially one that would be shown in theatres across the world.

So, :-) District 9 tells the story of some aliens who happen to land their spaceship/alien craft in the skies of Johannesburg which prompts humans to wonder what to do about them. Of all places, why would they land in an African country? Ao, mɔbɔ. Sad. A multi-national agency is formed to handle these visitors (or illegal immigrants if you may) and they enter the spaceship and settle them in Jozi's District 9. I think it's interesting how the aliens have similar features to the homo sapiens species. Now who programmed those 'aliens aka big prawns'? We have really come far with graphics and movie technology, it really blows my mind. These aliens are so like humans, it is mentioned that there was inter-species sex, I mean how? Who would have sex with an alien? Watch the movie to find out. Like I said before, this was an African production, and with the graphics and etc, who's to say Africa has not arrived?

One interesting thing about the movie was how the aliens communicated with the humans. I couldn't figure out what language they were speaking. It surely wasn't English and if it was Hollywood's favorite African language, Swahili, I would have known too. Was it Afrikaans? Nyanja? Xhosa? It took these aliens just two decades to be able to speak a language with humans and even do business with them. Crazy innit? The aliens were given names like Christopher Johnson. Of course I have to ask why they weren't named Dladla Hlophe Nqongwane. Yeah, figured Vikus Wikus wouldn't be able to pronounce that. I was impressed as to how the local authorities gave them addresses, names, etc. We can't even seem to do that properly in Accra. Sigh. What was the deal with the Nigerians speaking Kiswahili Nyanja, etc? IMDB says the movie is in English and Nyanja. Is Nyanja the popular language in District 9? Was Nyanja chosen because it's the closest Southern African language to Swahili? What is this crush movie-makers have on Swahili? I doubt Nigerians would go all the way to South Africa and use Nyanja as their preferred lingua franca.

You can't talk about District 9 without talking about the portrayal of Nigerians. I thought South Africa and Nigeria were cool now? In the movie, Nigerians run a cat food 419 scam in the slums of District 9. As if internet fraud was not enough, they were being portrayed as people who would also deceive aliens. We know about ABC 20/20's special on Nigerian 419, but you got to give it to these guys, they are hustlers and have the entrepreneurial spirit. What I didn't enjoy was the portrayal of the Nigerians as slumlords, criminals and drug dealers. Now, from prior knowledge, Nigerians may be running drug cartels and prostitution rings in South Africa, but in the slums? Why would they travel all the way to Nigeria and live in the slums? Besides, the South African anti-apartheid fighters have a whole bunch of weapons, which is partly the reason for the high incidence of crime in Mzansi, so how could the Nigerians be portrayed as the criminals? I suppose Neill Blomkamp couldn't portray South Africans that way and the easiest targets were the Nigerians. This must stop! I demand someone make a movie that portrays Nigerians in South Africa in a good light. Because such people do exist in real life.

I didn't like the way the movie ended. In fact, I don't like the way most movies end these days. Hollywood is taking a page out of Nollywood's book (Yay!) by planning for sequels while the first movie is being done. I don't get any extra joy when I am left hanging at the end wondering what next. Hollywood makes a lot of money from sequels but they should sign off properly on their movies. It's been done too often, we've begun to just accept it instead of question the morale. At this rate, you'll have to love Nollywood movies, because when one part 1 is done, part 2 is not too far away. We probably have to wait a couple of years for the continuation of District 9 District 10.

African movies are on the up. This was a great sci-fi flick. It featured alien weaponry, ground-breaking science and technology, awesome acting, and an interesting story. Talking about technology, some of those aliens were really smart. The aliens used some hi-tech stuff in their shacks, so did the local South African labs, but what about our Nigerians in the slums? African electronics. Now that's not cool. Hey, maybe it works, what do I know? We'll be talking about District 9 because it was controversial but also because it is ground-breaking for African theater as well. I may just buy this movie when it comes on DVD. The movie is highly recommended, even for Nigerians. :-)

PS: I am still looking to see the White Wedding and will blog about Tsotsi at some point. Local is lekker.
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