District 9


The Jewish Journal takes a look at the new film District 9 and its interesting Jewish parallels:

Many who’ve seen the film have drawn parallels to apartheid, primarily because the setting is Johannesburg. But the filmmakers spell out in Sony’s “District 9” press notes that there is no direct, intentional apartheid metaphor. Instead, they say, the film is a commentary on xenophobia and immigration, paralleling issues Jews, Sudanese refugees and others living in exile have had to content with after taking up residence in foreign countries.

“In South Africa, we have to deal with issues that generally people around the world try to sweep under the rug,” said Sharlto Copley, who plays Wikus van der Merwe, referring to the country’s large immigrant population.

In “District 9,” individual aliens are given human names like Christopher Johnson, a la Ellis Island, and the aliens’ race as a whole is never named. Instead, humans use the pejorative “prawns,” referring to the aliens as creatures or animals, much the way Nazis dehumanized Jews by drawing comparisons to disease-carrying rodents. Other Nazi parallels include Nuremberg-like signs forbidding aliens from sitting in a particular place, engaging in a particular activity, etc.

In an alternative 1981, the aliens’ ship came to a halt over—of all places—Johannesburg. The aliens arrived as refugees – hungry, sick and homeless. In the intervening years, Multi-National United (MNU), a private international security company, took charge of the aliens and keeps them corralled in a concentration camp known as District 9, where they scavenge through piles of garbage looking for food and technology. Although reviled by humans for their crustacean-like appearance and cultural differences (one commentator mentions “the prawn doesn’t understand [concepts like] ownership”), MNU wants to reverse-engineer the aliens’ advanced weapons and adapt it for human use. The rub: the weapons only respond to alien DNA.

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