I 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.