Given enough contemplation, one will find that most disasters are a consequence of a previous action. There is always a causality of calamity, but recognizing a cause is fundamental to understanding the tragedies of the world and moving to prevent them. One of the most easily accessible and palatable ways of analyzing the causes of hardships of the world is through close critical analysis of film. Film is a form of expression, and often in times of political unrest, film has spoken truths in many artistic and empathetic ways that may not have otherwise been heard. District 9 is a science fiction film that portrays a gruesome beauty and truth through the platform of science fiction. District 9 mirrored real events that transpired as a result of Apartheid. This film shed light on the catastrophic results of segregation that South Africans experienced and continue to experience on social and economic levels. These events are similar to the segregation of African Americans in the United States, and the continued systemic oppression that still exists today.
It is important to recognize the cause of an issue when considering solutions. According to the causality model developed by Sefferino Ramos, of the causes listed, the Sufficient Cause is a causality that implies sufficient variables to produce a particular outcome. In this regard, the cause of the racial divides in South Africa and in the United States stems from segregation as a result of slavery and colonization. This process of diminishing white supremacy contains many stages, such as the phase of segregation. These stages, however, all stem from previous transformations that contributed to the current outcome. One of the stages following the Dutch colonization of South Africa was the system of Apartheid.
According to an article by Ramsamy, Edward, and Ramsamy: Cultural Sociology of the Middle East, Asia, and Africa, “Apartheid means “separateness” or “apartness” in Afrikaans, the language of the Afrikaners, who are descendants of the Dutch settlers of South Africa”. Apartheid was a result of Dutch colonization of South Africa. It was a system of segregation in South Africa which separated groups of peoples based on racial discrimination. This model of segregation was developed by the National Party over many years through policies such as the Population Registration Act, which categorized South Africans into four racial groups, (white, African, Indian, or colored (mixed race)). Apartheid enforced hideous forms of segregation and discrimination, causing violence and unrest between races.
The Group Areas Act enforced racial segregation in urban and suburban neighborhoods. This segregation plan removed tens of thousands of Indians and Africans from their homes, to be relocated in separate districts from white neighborhoods; crowded in refugee camps where they were left with little resources. This blatantly racist zoning was an atrocious effect of the regime of Apartheid and produced poverty, deaths, violence, gang activity, and ultimately resulted in the removal of over 4 million Africans from their homes in South Africa, as well as devastating ecological effects on the environment. There were countless consequences for the colonization of South Africa, which led to Apartheid and segregation. These effects are displayed thematically through the film District 9.
District 9 demonstrates the effects of Apartheid through a story of aliens. In this film, a species of aliens is discovered to be seeking refuge and recovery from illness on Earth. The movie follows Wikus, a field operative of MNU, Multi-National United. MNU is a company that oversees the districts created for the growing alien population. This private company, however, has a blatant, cruel disregard for the well-being of these interstellar refugees. Wikus is ordered by the MNU to move a large portion of the population of aliens to a new district as well as increase investigations of illegal weapons possession and contraband within District 9. This task proves to be much more difficult than expected for the young operative, as he is unexpectedly infected by a substance the alien Christopher has been developing for 20 years. This triggers a slow transformation of the human operative into an alien, and into another refugee of District 9.
According to the Seven Monster Theses by Jerome Cohen, the fourth thesis states that monsters dwell at the gates of difference. This theory suggests that a monster can symbolize what is considered different or outside of the norm, and oftentimes portrays the superiority complexes existent in cultural bodies, such as white supremacy. This idea can be applied to the nuances of District 9 and how it reflects the effects of segregation. The effect of the segregation of aliens in District 9 is caused by the company MNU, which isolates and abuses the refugees whilst maintaining a public facade of philanthropy, thus evading direct legal consequences. This separation and intolerance of an “alien”, or different culture causes unrest and violence between the alien districts and humans, which ultimately results in decade-long conflicts and chaos.
When Wikus begins his transformation, he begins as a naive man suited for paperwork and dixie cups of office coffee. In the end of the film, Wikus evolves into the same breed of exoskeletal creature as the many technologically advanced, intelligent life forms who have sought refuge on the aquatic planet. This metamorphosis gnarls Wikus’s naivety into alarming realization, reducing him to a cat food-scavenging beast: his face reflecting the same perceived monstrosity that MNU and intolerant humans see in the faces of the alien species. Wikus must then endure revolting conditions the aliens face every day in District 9, forced to abandon his manicured human life outside the districts. The irony of this transformation, though grotesque, suggests that the assumption of “monstrosity” in cultural bodies is often imposed by the fear of what is different. The aliens in District 9 could be considered “monstrous”, however, the monstrosity of these aliens is primarily a result of their mistreatment. The threat of these aliens primarily lies in the reflexive distrust they hold for humans, and vice versa. It is implied that peace would have been established between humans and aliens if diplomacy and hospitality had been exercised, rather than segregation and barbarization of these alien populations by placing them in disparaged ghettos.
Segregation has been a despicable arrangement in the United States that rivals the effects of Apartheid. Segregation in the United States has been a result of the still-existent racism and oppression of African Americans from the earliest depravities of slavery. The various forms of segregation of African Americans has been similar to the segregation of people of color during Apartheid, and the effects are still perpetuated today. It is impoverishment that has remained in sectioned neighborhoods in the United States due to residential segregation. Through systemic zoning, these neighborhoods endure in lasting misfortune. Urban planning zones off neighborhoods based on economic status. While those of higher economic standing are allowed the indulgences of developed urban areas as they purchase real estate and build new urban centers, the less wealthy and oftentimes more “ethnic” neighborhoods remained unaffected. That is, until neighborhoods are bought out by wealthier parties, forcing less privileged families to relocate to cheaper, and even less accessible and developed neighborhoods. This gentrification results in ghettos: poorer neighborhoods, homelessness, poverty-stricken school systems, and neglected populations.
It is ironic that so close to such privilege, there are neighborhoods that are unable to share in the wealth that they themselves had attributed to. Even more ironic, still, is the fact that this systemic polarization affects both peoples of color and the poor, white populations of the U.S. According to an article titled Segregation by Dan Hiebert, “The link between racialization and class division, which is so obvious in the riots just discussed, is generally under-theorized in the literature on segregation.” It is arguable that class-division supersedes perceived racial differences and that racial differences are used as a divide-and-conquer strategy for the upper class to keep the lower class divisions in their respective “zones”.
The moral of District 9 points to the pitfalls of segregation. In District 9, they use “species-ism” to convey the “otherness” that is white supremacy. Even in today’s rhetoric, the term “alien” is used literally to describe an ethnic group of the same species, just of a different race. “Illegal immigrants”, “refugees”, “insurgents”, “extremists”, “fundamentalists”, “aliens” are all terms used to describe “different” or “other”. In a recent conference covered by CNN, CBS, FOX News, and many other news platforms, our 45th president discussed the investigations and arrests of illegal immigrants that have committed crimes. In this discussion, he states “many people are trying to get into this country, and we’re stopping them. These aren’t people, they’re animals.” [EDIT] Three days ago he used this term. This dehumanization, whether it be directed at immigrants, criminals, white supremacists, politicians, or other “monsters” of our own perception, is foolish and ignorant.
It is only through the critical analysis of cause and effect that we will achieve greatness. “Monsters” and how they can affect our own perceptions must also be considered. Martin Luther King Jr. once said: “Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.” If we hold a particular prejudice for a group of people, it is our moral responsibility to evaluate why we have come to that conclusion, and possess the humility of admitting when we are wrong, especially to see the humanity in the faces of those who are different from us.
I’ll close with a quote from the film Big Fish by Tim Burton: “It was that night I discovered that most things you consider evil or wicked are simply lonely, and lacking in the social niceties.”
Tim Burton quote