Things In District 9 You Notice After Watching More Than Once
Neill Blomkamp’s "District 9" was a box office hit and was embraced by audiences and critics alike, securing the coveted "must-see" rating on Metacritic and a "certified fresh" score on Rotten Tomatoes. It was also popular with the Academy, garnering four Oscar nominations, including best picture and best adapted screenplay, which is an impressive feat for a genre film. Peter Jackson, of "The Lord of the Rings" fame, produced this sci-fi movie, and it was Blomkamp’s directorial debut, establishing him as a young director to watch out for.
"District 9" is an exploration of racism, segregation, xenophobia, and immigration that is both thought-provoking and entertaining, striking the perfect balance between a movie with a message and a popcorn flick; this was the co-writer/director’s aim. Blomkamp told Entertainment Weekly, "I’m not trying to make something about apartheid that beats people over the head. I’m just trying to portray science fiction in a way that feels like it might have actually been real."
The mockumentary framing device Blomkamp employed quickly explains how aliens arrived in South Africa in 1982 and have lived as refugees in a makeshift settlement, called District 9, that has devolved into a slum in the 20-plus years since they arrived. A camera crew follows Wikus van de Merwe (Sharlto Copley) to document the MNU-sponsored relocation of the aliens to District 10, a new refugee settlement outside the city limits, because of widespread anti-alien sentiments in Johannesburg. Join us as we take a deep dive, exploring things you notice after watching "District 9" more than once.
There is variation in the color of the aliens
After watching "District 9" a few times, you may notice the aliens have a variety of contrasting colors painted on their bodies. At the end of a Q&A session led by Adam Savage, after a screening at San Francisco’s Alamo Drafthouse, an audience member asked if there was any significance to the variation in color displayed on the alien’s bodies. Director Blomkamp said, "No. That was pure … that was pure sci-fi," suggesting the variation does not connote a difference in heritage or social standing within their alien society.
Although the colors have no significance regarding their social organization, you may have noticed the colors represent the pan-African colors of red, gold, and green. While Christopher Johnson (Jason Cope) has an overwhelmingly green hue, his friend who is killed at the beginning of the film during the relocation effort has a yellow hue, and other aliens throughout the film have a red hue. Using these particular colors that appear on the flags of many African nations suggests a message about cultivating a more inclusive and unified African identity to combat xenophobia and discrimination against refugees from various African countries.
The aliens in District 9 are marked with a serial number
At the end of a Q&A with Adam Savage, Blomkamp confirmed the aliens in "District 9" are marked with a serial number to identify them. In several scenes, you will notice Christopher Johnson has "Property of MNU" stamped in black on the left side of his head after they painted his head white. This serial number creates a visual parallel between chattel slavery in the United States, the Nazis who marked Jews imprisoned in Auschwitz with a tattooed serial number during the Holocaust, and the non-governmental organization Multi-National United (MNU) in this dystopian sci-fi flick.
From the wording of these stamps, it is clear MNU isn’t just using serial numbers to identify the aliens living in District 9, but that the organization views the aliens as property rather than refugees living in a settlement. The aliens are regarded as something less than human. The stamp on their heads emphasizes this attitude, as does the derogatory slur "Prawn" used by Johannesburg residents to refer to the aliens. The links to Nazi Germany’s treatment of Jewish residents are also echoed later in the film when Wikus tells Christopher Johnson he shouldn’t go to District 10 because it is worse than District 9 and "like a concentration camp."