The plot of District 9 revolves around an alternative history of the 1980s in which an alien ship becomes stranded on Earth, leaving humanity and along with that, imperialism, to deal with the alien visitors.
Throughout the film we follow Wikus van der Merwe, a representative from a multinational corporation that has been created to organize the alien visitors socially as well as reverse-engineer the highly advanced technology brought with them. This group’s name is MNU, who notably wear the same blue uniforms as the United Nations. The movie is shot in documentary-style camera, with the actors talking to the audience as if they were camera crew. The story unfolds as we follow Wikus and more is explained about how the aliens behave.
This brings me to the main point of the film. The aliens are a part of a caste system, and when they became stranded on Earth the ruling caste of this species either were killed, died out, or simply left, leaving the other aliens to be on their own. The “drones” of this species are lost without any sort of leadership or guidance, and have to deal with humanity—and in this case the movie even states that means the capitalists—who of course take advantage of the drones for labor and other menial tasks.
Now, I am a fan of all things science fiction, from early Robert Heinlien to Ridley Scott’s Alien, so it’s not a big surprise that when I heard about District 9 I was quite excited. The film has a quality story and character good development. However, in my opinion, the critics have somewhat missed the point. This isn’t a movie only about South African apartheid or how immigrants are treated, though that is certainly one part of it. This is also a movie about the classes and oppressed peoples in capitalist society.
The drones are being taken advantage of throughout the entire film, exploited for labor and later discriminated against, being made to live in a Warsaw Ghetto and being barred from entering certain restaurants and using certain bathrooms. The word “prawn” is even used as a racist slur for the aliens. In District 9, it’s not only a certain few who are exploiting their own species; it’s a species exploiting another species, just as nation does to nation under imperialism.
By all means this is a movie the APL recommends. It is not the standard brainless or reactionary cookie-cutter action flick, nor is the character development or dialogue become second priority to action. It is overall a progressive movie; however the idea that this is somehow made to respect, remember, or be an allegory for South African apartheid alone so utterly misses the obvious.