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District 9 and xenophobia: art imitates life, life imitates art

District 9, a science fiction film directed by South African-born Neill Blomkamp, was released in 2009 and went on to become an international blockbuster. Nominated for four Oscars, including best picture, it had grossed $210,819,205 (about R2,5-billion) – more than seven times what it cost to make – by the end of 2009.

In the wake of recent attacks on foreigners in South Africa, the film’s allegorical depiction of xenophobia is eerily resonant today.

In a trailer for the film the words “They are not welcome” and “They are not accepted” flash across the screen. “They don’t belong here,” a woman says angrily. “They must just go; I don’t know where, but they must just go,” says a furiously gesticulating man.

See for yourself in the trailer:

A quote from now-defunct South African satire site Hayibo.com gave some punchy commentary on the film’s sci-fi nature after its release:

“South Africans say that District 9 has taught them that xenophobia is bad, adding that without the sci-fi blockbuster they would never have understood that setting foreigners on fire is upsetting to them. ‘You only really understand something when you see it translated through the medium of high-budget special effects,’ explained one former xenophobe.”

District 9 is supposed to be an over-the-top sci-fi film, set in a dystopian world. Instead, scenes from the film like the township raid, covered by television reporters, are now playing out in real life.

– Featured image from District 9 trailer.

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