Tuesday, September 1, 2009

District 9 Opens in South Africa

NPR covered the opening this past weekend of the US Blockbuster District 9 in South Africa. There are subtleties lost on American audiences that are obvious to people living in South Africa, and all the references to apartheid.

"In some ways, it was shocking," says Cape Town resident Christo Schutte, stopping to talk outside a local theater. "I'm a young South African, thinking of District Six."

District Six was a historically interracial Cape Town neighborhood that the government deemed a slum — and from which more than 60,000 residents were forcibly removed — in the 1970s, under apartheid laws.
Schutte, who's white, said watching South African security forces violently evict aliens from their homes in the fictional slum that gives the film its title made him reflect on the real-life forced removals in District Six.

"What happened there ... I never understood, because I never really experienced that," Schutte says. "So for me, that was a shock, as a white South African, to see that."

It's District 9's main character who initially leads the effort to evict millions of aliens and intern them in giant camps. It hasn't been lost on many in Cape Town that the character, Wikus Van De Merwe (Sharlto Copley), is an Afrikaner — a member of the Dutch-descended white minority that instituted apartheid.

"Generally, it's the Afrikaners who were the apartheid people," says Janet Daffy. Daffy isn't Afrikaner herself, but she says the evolution of the character — who goes from following orders to fighting on behalf of the aliens — is a fitting tribute to the post-apartheid South Africa.

It's worth listening to the whole 4 minute piece from yesterday's All Things Considered, and the article has links to a few scenes from the movie, like this one about the aliens arrival in Johannesburg.

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