WHEN DID NIGERIA BECOME A SLUM IN DISTRICT 9 AT JOHANNESBURG?

district9posterI am a diehard fan of Peter Jackson, especially after watching the Lord of the Ring series rack up the Oscars with excellent display of modern film artistry. I went as far as purchasing the Editors Cut of the movie containing twelve DVDs with extended edition. Watching his remake of King Kong was also breathtaking, especially how he succeeded in recreating the lost island in order to give more life to the reality of finding prehistoric creatures there. Jackson is a master at imaginative delivery of stories, and he has succeeded in doing all this outside Hollywood. Lord of the Rings was entirely done outside of the Hollywood apparatus, proving that creativity knows no bound and the much money spent in paying so called stars only goes to increasing the cost of movie making. His new movie, ‘District 9’ was also produced without any big stars and shot entirely in South Africa. It is a recreation of a short movie by Neill Blomkamp called ‘Alive in Joburg’ Kudos to him!

I stepped into the Cinema over the weekend, hand on my imaginary hat, getting ready to tip it for another amazing production, but walked out of that cinema with mixed feelings.  As usual, the movie was brilliantly executed, the story was a departure from the normal alien attacks, and the effects were superb. However something in the movie sparked up a negative emotion within me as others chose to laugh off as truth what was a negative characterization of the Nigerian people as a whole. You see in the movie, the aliens were confined to a place called District 9 where they lived continuously for about twenty years and expanded the area in to a huge slum with normal social interactions, including buying and selling. But, as crazily plotted by the writers, a Nigerian gang also situated themselves within District 9, and became a dangerous armed group doing scams, especially with cat food, which was an alien delicacy. Get it right, the Nigerians being referred to here were not aliens, but real humans. I then wondered what the sense was in creating such a plot, where humans choose to go live with very ugly and disgusting crustacean-like creatures, and mainly Nigerians for that matter.

I really wondered what the intent of such a questionably loaded plot was. Couldn’t it have been sufficient to create imaginary races and support the plot with such? It may surprise you to know that the area called District 9 is in close analogy to a real District 6, a mini city populated by mostly blacks and non-whites, and which the South African government had cleared of over 50, 000 people and bulldozed down. Interestingly in this movie, there was also a government order to clear District 9 of all aliens and relocate them to a concentration camp-like area, while the slum was to be bulldozed down. This is an interesting pointer to the infamous Apartheid era, and the treatment of black South Africans. This is however fair, as we can excuse the plot as simply drawing analogies for the purpose of that. But the inclusion of Nigerians in this plot and their evil characterization is what troubles me.

You might wonder what my trouble is about. Let me tell you why. First the Nigerians were not just thugs and mercenaries, as well as alien-servicing prostitutes, but also witchcraft practicing cannibals. They believed, by the spin of the witch doctor, that eating the alien body parts will give them greater power. Mind you they ate it raw rather than cooked. Yak!!! Can you imagine this? Even the main character in the movie, whose name is Wikus, after being infected by an alien liquid and began to slowly metamorphose became desired food for the Nigerian ‘cannibals’. Even worse is that the Nigerian gang leader was called ‘Obasanjo’, a name for the past Nigerian President. What on earth does Neill Blomkamp (the director) and Peter Jackson (producer) hope to achieve by such an ill representation of Nigerians in the movie? They seem to have forgotten that films are a very powerful device in information, especially to the uninformed world on a particular culture of people. As far as I know, cannibalism is not an issue in Nigeria, neither is alien prostitution ever heard of (bestiality is the closest to such wicked practice, but I haven’t heard of that either in Nigeria). While it may be acceptable to characterize them as mercenaries and thugs trying to survive in a hard way, to push that into the realms of devilish human practice is not in any way acceptable.

Such dangerous narratives within a movie deserve to be put in its right light: RACIST!!! As a Nigerian, born and bred, as well as cultured, I am highly offended by the implications of such a plot. It not only gives a false sense of identity to a people, but creates a false and uninformed imaginary escutcheon on the cultural vehicle of Nigerian, and indeed black people. Many movies have also made a mess while trying to capture the Nigerian element; movies such as Sahara (directed by Breck Eisner) and the recent Wolverine (directed by Gavin Hood). But in no way do they complicate matters as this movie. I watched this movie in a mixed neighbourhood consisting of mostly Caucasians and Asians, and for everyone that sat at the movie with me; I can only wonder what conclusions they made about Nigeria. I hope I am not being paranoid as some of my friends may claim. I am simply just wondering when Nigeria became part of the slum called District 9 in Johannesburg.

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20 thoughts on “WHEN DID NIGERIA BECOME A SLUM IN DISTRICT 9 AT JOHANNESBURG?

  1. Mate get over it, its Fiction for christ sake..
    Its only Art.
    Whats racist about Art, guess you would call Sacha (borat) cohen racist too for using satire..
    No need to be patriotic or chauvinistic, jumping on the bandwagon of Band Nigeria.
    From a fellow Calabar boy.. Koko.

    • Koko, you obviously have not totally considered the subtle undertones of what the director did. I guess you should read up his interview and how he said he chose to use Nigeria so as not to get into trouble with the black community in South Africa. How artful!!!

      • I totally agree with you, Reg! like I have already said, ONLY A BASTARD DESCRIBES HIS FATHERS HOUSE WITH HIS LEFT HAND” I am not saying that Nigeria is without it’s challenges and issues screaming for our attention, it does not justify our names being defamed by the international community. Naija might not be there yet but YOU & I need to stand up for it less we fall for anything!

  2. i havent watched the movie and didnt plan to bc sci-fi isnt my taste in films but alot of my nigerian friends that have seen it all have negative reviews. After reading your post I now see why they are upset and offended, I’m offended too.
    I kind of wonder why the director picked nigerians and then vilified us too…yes there are many nigerians who call SA home but other countries such as zimbabwe has a larger population situated there so why us?

  3. I get your point of view. I still think we are over reacting, anytime someone says something bad about Nigeria we all react, half the time it is the truth; corruption, advance fee fraud, extra judicial killing etc. I have read comments people have left on your facebook, they only vindicate what i have said about our patriotic reactions bordering on fanatism.
    Its a laugh that we portray witchcraft practices in most of our so called Nollywood films, if a foreigner was to do the same we would scream brimstone and fire!. I read recently that the foreign minister accused Nigerians in diaspora of not promoting the country abroad, isnt that just plain idiocy. Ete, how do u advertise Nigeria when the Government thrives on corruption.
    That is the undertone of the comments people have left on your page, blind chauvinism.
    We should start clamouring for changes in the system not defending it from foreign criticisms.
    du ke emem Baba..

    • I hold your point of view Koko, and I have always plainly stated that from my past blogs, especially about the issue of rebranding Nigeria. I also actually think Nollywood has done Nigeria a disservice by the kinds of subtle or explicit narratives in their varying plots. But when the writer of this movie, in avoiding to offend Black South Africans, chooses Nigeria as an escape route rather than creating fictional roles…then a voice of reason must be raised. Because of our scathing image, which we have brought on ourselves, doesn’t mean that we should not oppose inappropriate representations when we seem them. The Italians and Mexicans have called out to the use of stereotypical Mafias to clothe their identity, and we must do the same. Those of us who repeatedly face people asking stupid questions about Nigerian at the moment they here we are of that nationality know how much it pinches when people tell you what they think they know. A lot of it comes from the movies. People pay attention to such details in movies more than they read in the news. So we are not out of reason in what we do by raising a voice on one hand, and contributing to national discourse on how to clean up our international image. So I am safe Koko…trust me!

  4. If we want our image to improve internationally, then we have to look inwards at ourselves. Change begins with each and everyone of us. Until we clean up our act, we are fair game for anyone who wants to categorise us negatively.

  5. Hey guys, i havent watched the movie yet but should see it dis weekend. Pls Reggie where can i read the interview of the Director as regards the Nigerian issue. i would like to hear(or read) his excuse. thanks

  6. A lot of the arguments are fundamentally flawed and/or simply laughable.

    “WE” haven’t distorted or destroyed “OUR” image. A “deviant minority” (such as crooks, murders, cannibals, illiterates etc.) do not represent us as a majority and I feel like slapping the taste out of anybody who makes this mistake every time I see it.

    To say that “WE” have done this to ourselves as if we are ALL guilty of a statistical certainty in ANY population is absolutely ridiculous. Britain will never take the blame for its involvement in the atrocities of Uganda, neither will Jews take the blame for a lot of the murders that took place during the holocaust because they KNOW to control information and distance themselves from deviant minorities. But lo and behold these “Africans” have the sins of others hoisted upon their shoulders as if it is bound to them like an electric dog-collar making them feel the guilt of crimes they never committed.

    Do we have a responsibility? Hell yes, however we should be very clear what that collective responsibility is: and if I could give it words it would be in the form of: We need to extricate this meme of deviant minority behaviour. And expose it for what it is instead of falsely giving it the title of “a cultural norm” and finally take true responsibility by protecting our image and rejecting false portrayals of the majority of our civilizations. The majority of us are not barbarians, criminals, murderers and thieves. We are individuals that form a super organism and it’s up to us to extricate and extradite those of us that are going against the grain and destroying us like a malignant cancer. Whether in the form of our image in foreign lands or our image in domestic affairs.

    Wake up. Stop saying you are guilty of crimes you did not commit. If you have committed them take personal responsibility but do not drag me down with your sinking ship of pathetic apologetics for people you do not need to defend.

  7. For what it matters I am South African and I think that some of the some of the suttleties of the social and political allegories contained in District 9 will be lost on those not familiar with life in South Africa.

    Nigerians are in charge of the political underworld in Johannesburg – sad but true. This is why it makes sense for the gangsters to be Nigerian. Hillbrow (an inner city suburb) is plauged by violent Nigerian drug dealers and gangs.

    If I was Nigerian I would also be offended by the film, however you need to understand and accept that it is set in a South African context.

    “Muti killings” at the behest of Sangomas or Witch Doctors are unfortunately also common-place in South Africa.

    • Grant we all know that fact, but the muti killings going on and the inflence of sangomas, is that also Nigerians? Are Nigerians the dominant prostitutes in South Africa? So while we appreciate the narratives of contained in the movie, we see as scathing the extent to which the producers went in painting Nigerians as barbarians, even calling the thugs leader by the name of our former president. Now that’s extreme 😦

  8. watched that movie in the cinema some days back and thought in my heart not to be biased because I read this article before seeing the move, but as a crusader for hope for Nigerians, it touched me to the very depth of my soul, the level of degradation and humiliation of the Nigerian people; we were portrayed as nothing short of barbarians as you have rightly stated. The fact that a few in some nations around the world are considered in such light is not sufficient reason to give the world a wrong perspective of the Nigerian people; it is just one fact that these stuffs come in movies, my greatest concerns still remain that through these movies wrong ideas about the Nigerian people are sent round the world…and we seem helpless, asides for the few like Pa Reg. who won’t just sit and do nothing, we’ll give the best light of our rich content to the world and we keep doing this till we change the images painted in the minds of the people…

  9. I can take everything about the movie but the use of the name Obasonjo for the lead ganster? That is absurd and disrespectful and I am no fan of Obasanjo but it’s time to call a spade a spade and not a garden tool!

    Thye’ve stopped showingin in Nigeria now! The Minister for Information asked that it’d be sanctioned in movie theatres and has asked Sony for an apology.

  10. Reggie wat do u xpect,we are d architect of our misfortune.Pick a typical so called nollywood movie n watch wat do u c, rituals,scam,robbery n everyone is ok wit dat.It hurts really bt lets start d cleaning from home.

  11. no matter what we do as Nigerians, no one has the right to portray us in a bad light. and the only way to do so is to boycott the showings of this movie.
    we can protest in our own way. and as for nollywood, change is coming, slowly but surely. i mean the caliber of Nigerian movies now have reduced from the diabolic to more drama, comedies and romance.
    most of the world power blocks took hundreds of years and several wars, revolution and apartheids to get to where they are and have no right to cast accusing fingers at us
    Nigeria will get there. I believe in one Nigeria

    • I totally disagree with you. how can you say that no matter what we do we no one is allowed to portray us in a bad light? are you kidding? we are humans and therefore all open to criticism.
      Why do Nigerians aloways overreact when we get any form of bad pulicity. ALL COUNTRIES get bad publicity, and with us, what we are being portrayed as is TRUE. My cousin lives in S.A and everyday there is anoda drug bust of a Nigerian community spreading havoc there. Here in U.K, there is a special police squad to tackle internet fraud in Greenwich, a place 90% populated by Nigerians. But as soon as someone foreign points this out we start to cry.
      Is it not the same people that recognised Chimamanda with an Orange prize before most Nigerians heared of her? Or Ngozi Iweala or Chinua Achebe? Is it it not them that awarded a Nigerian a scholarship at my uni for being the best chemistry student? But we never shout about this. Abeg let us look inward.
      The whole rebranding thing is a joke. If you want people to view you in a paticular way then act that way and dont try and be portrayed that way.
      I also believe in Nigeria, but I believe in honesty more.

  12. Well I haven’t seen the movie but I agree with Reggie. Surely they could have come up with a fictitious race and still achieved the same effect. I also totally agree with Othello. Very well said.

    For those who have said we’re to blame. I have this to say. I have no issues with you making money but please do not make money at my expense or at the expense of a whole nation. It’s the same way I see black, white, indian, irish and other such jokes as being disrespectful.

    On the issue of Nollywood movies, I think their storylines are in poor taste. However, let me use the race card on this point. It’s not okay, but tolerable, for a black person to call a black person a nigger but I dare a white person to call a black person a nigger. I’m sorry no can do! And because of how touchy the subject is, a white person will definitely think twice before calling a black person a nigger.

    I’m sorry but if he knew South Africans would be offended then why on earth did he think Nigerians would be okay with it? Call it art, fiction or whatever you will, but I totally disagree with slamming a whole nation simply because of a few bad experiences you’ve had or the general mindset towards a certain race. I dare him to portray Zulus or Xhosas in the same light. Furthermore, some people are too thick to distinguish between fact and fiction.

    By all means, have an open mind but please accord me a little respect! As a Nigerian currently in SA, I am sick and tired of how Nigerians are portrayed and have resorted to sarcastic responses to stupid questions rather than laughing them off. I think the sooner we all have this mindset, the better for all of us. It’s okay for me as a Nigerian to diss Nigeria but not some foreigner who doesn’t know the first thing about us apart from what he’s heard in the news or movies like these . We definitely need to draw the line somewhere!

    I still plan to watch the movie and if it was my nature, I’d go out of my way to find a bootleg version of it. But I guess 2 wrongs don’t make a right. So I just might wait for it to come out on dvd or watch it any Wednesday when it’s half price.

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