There are spoilers. If you don’t want to read me rant, skip this one, dear readers.
A lot of things happened this week. Many of them were good. Most of them involved people I was very happy to see. A small portion involved watching Avatar and The Great Mouse Detective with my new grad school friends, because that is very adult and sophisticated. Honestly, I find myself going back to the animated movies I loved when I was younger often. It’s interesting to see how much I missed when I was younger. I wonder that I ever understood what was happening; that there were actually nuances at work. This makes me very very excited.
You have to understand a little bit about how a English Major’s mind works, or at least, how it functions if operating properly and switched on. I cannot stop analyzing language, stories, symbolism, etc. The fact that I minored (a class and a half away from double majored) in art history means that I am literally doing this constantly. All. The. Goddam. Time. That Bob Evan’s sigh? That Champion Car Wash commercial? That encouraging billboard? I am already tearing it apart. If you’re lucky, I’ll keep my mouth shut. I can turn it off sometimes, if I talk myself through it. For instance, I turned it off for GI Joe, and had a great deal of fun with it. Don’t tell me it didn’t follow the ‘feel’ of GI Joe. Go watch the old movies again. There’s an example of something not as nuanced as I thought back then.
I did not turn it off for District 9, not knowing what to expect. I walked out of the theater thinking, more or less, “Well, that was a terrible movie. I would rather like my money back. Well, it’ll bomb out in a few days.”
But it didn’t. No! Worse than that, people flocked to it. Not the first time a large group of people saw a terrible movie. I was over it, but then I read the reviews. Apparently people found it moving, inspirational, a treatise on humanity. “What?” I said to myself. “In that mess of a movie? And on top of that, did anyone miss the racism? The massive, terrible racist overtones? No, not overtones so much as an enormous neon sign that said, ‘STERYOTYPE AHOY’.” Oh no. actually, they caught those, and defended them. Apparently the director, being from Africa, is exempt from racism. More than that, it’s creative. Apparently.
It bothered me. A little. I’ve ranted about it to anyone who will listen…or who won’t listen but will nod as if they are. I’ve lost sleep. I’ve lay awake at night and thought, “Why? Why does it bother me so much?” So, after that enormous introduction, here is why. No seriously, you don’t have to read this if you don’t want to.
I was going to pick apart plot holes and shallow characters, but let’s let that be. That is simply what makes this movie a bad movie, and not what makes it actively insulting. No, let’s talk just about that. Let’s talk about the Nigerians. Now, the fact that they are the Nigerians is important. They are not the “So and So Gang,” or a group of Nigerians, or anything like that. No. They are The Nigerians. If a movie used The Americans, we would assume that would be a group representing, in some small part, America. So, let’s look at how these Nigerians are portrayed. They are violent, involved in interspecies prostitution, and, my personal favorite, cannibalistic. Oh no, it’s okay. There’s a reason. It’s Voodoo. So, not only has the director insulted a culture, but also a religion.
Fun fact, Voodoo, actually comes from a word meaning, basically, ‘things which do things’. It involves the release of energy from a powerful object by putting a nail or piece of metal into it. It’s usually used to seal promises, very much like swearing on a bible. It actually originates from slaves in the Caribbean via the Congo. That is not, in fact, Nigeria. Oh also, it doesn’t involve cannibalism. Plus 10 points for style but minus several billion for sloppy writing, am I right?
Is it racist to assume that one of group of people believe and practice the same thing as another simply because they live in the same area and may look alike Yes. I think that’s the definition. Right there.
But culture is hard. It is difficult to fabricate complex characters in a system they inherited through birth, especially, in the case of a sci fi, when you have to invent one. This movie proves this. In the same way that the newest Star Wars movies co-opted a great deal of African Art to fill in the background, this movie used stereotypes in the place of plot and characters. The villains were white and Euro-American. The female lead was white, blonde, and in distress. Johannesburg was basically a blank slate, where people were devoid of all personality or expression save anger. The aliens were completely cultureless. They are aggressive, stupid, and violent, save Christopher.
I was aware, vaguely, that I was supposed to see Christopher as the undoing of this stereotype. However, I found it difficult as he was the only character shown in that way. Even in the last scene, when Wikkas is rescued, the aliens are savage and frightening. Even when Christopher speaks of them, they are ‘his people,’ a group of nameless stand ins for the downtrodden of the world. I understand, also, that we were supposed to be aware of a bias because of the documentary style. However, the style was dropped so often, that excuse is no longer valid.
This was presented as a movie about the escalation of violence resulting from cultural tension, and there was no culture. There was only violence. Violence as reason, plot point, and solution. It was also a film about humanity; about equal treatment and understanding. Yet the director saw fit to slander and insult vast swatches of the real world.
The sin of this movie is not that it was vapid, or silly, or full of explosions. The offense is in the lie of it. It presented itself as something intelligent and introspective; a real commentary on humanity. And it was, but probably not in the way everyone believes. It showed exactly what humanity will swallow, enthusiastically, so long as it follows our own view of the world.
This movies asks you to think, gives you an hour of swill, and allows you to leave the movie thinking you have. Yet, it’s still full of all the flash and emptiness of any Hollywood blockbuster. You were tricked. You were bamboozled. I know you were aware of it too. Most people have told me those scenes make them feel uncomfortable. There’s a reason, people! Don’t ignore that feeling! You like the thinking feeling! Now keep doing it!