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District 9 : Science Fiction as Social Critique

Peggy Cho 1

1경희대학교

Accredited

ABSTRACT

This study examines the ways District 9, a film released in 2009, reworks the sci-fi genre to explore the human encounter with “other” alien populations. Like Avatar, released in the same year, District 9 addresses the tropes of conflict over land and human-alien hybridity and introduces non-humans and aliens, not as invaders, but as objects of human oppression and cruelty. Unlike many other science fiction films where the encounter between humans and non-humans occurs in an unidentifiable future time and location, District 9 crosses genre barriers to engage with urban realism, producing a social critique of contemporary urban population problems. The arrival of aliens in District 9 occurs as part of the recorded human past and the film’s action is carried out in the present time in the specifically identified city of Johannesburg. A distinctly anti-Hollywood film that locates the action at the street level, District 9 plays out human anxieties about contact with others by referencing the divisions and conflicts historically attached to South Africa’s sprawling metropolis and its current problems of urban poverty and illegal immigrants. Focusing on how this particular urban setting frames the film, the study investigates the ways Blomkamp’s sci-fi film about extra-terrestrials presents a curious postcolonial mix of aliens and immigrants surviving in abject conditions in an urban slum and forces a realistic examination of the contemporary social problems faced by South Africa’s largest city and by extension other major global cities. The paper also examines the film’s representation of the human-alien hybrid and its potential as a force to resist human exploitation of the other. It also claims that though the setting is highly local, District 9 speaks to a wider global audience by making obvious the exploitative practices of profit-seeking multinationals. A sci-fi film that is keen on making a social commentary on urban population conflicts, District 9 resonates with the wider sense of insecurity and fear of others that form the horizon of the uncertain and potentially violent contemporary human world.

Citation status

* References for papers published after 2022 are currently being built.