Millions of refugees live in temporary camps all over the world today, and few westerners know or care about their problems.

Although most of these refugees will eventually return to the country of their origin, one question is what does one do with those who for political reasons cannot or are not allowed to go home? These refugees are often poor (rich and educated refugees quickly find jobs and settle in new homes). They may have other customs or religion, and often don’t speak the local language.

Do you force them to live as permanent refugees, as was done to the Palestinians who have been refused citizenship by local Arab countries but not allowed back in Israel? Do you integrate them into society, as the US has done with millions of refugees over the last 60 years? Do you burn down their shanty towns to evict them, or do you register them and deport them to rural areas, where they are out of sight, out of mind?

It’s a world wide problem, and one that is asked by (of all places) the Science Fiction film District Nine.

District Nine, is a low budget Science Fiction film that is about a bunch of aliens who land on earth as starving refugees, and who are placed in refugee camps.The film takes place twenty years later, when the government decides it is impossible to integrate them into society, so they decide to resettle them permanently far from any major city.

Unlike most films, this one has a feeling of reality about it, maybe because instead of smart aliens landing in Los Angeles being met by Hollywood pretty men,  you have the craft landing on top of Johannesburg, South Africa, and the craft is full of not too intelligent Aliens, who are met by…bureaucrats.

What really makes the film “realistic” is that they filmed District Nine inside a real shanty town (where residents had recently been removed and resettled), complete with garbage.

The first part of the movie we meet the hero, a stolid, unimaginative Afrikaner bureaucrat, who was chosen to go from house to house to get paper work signed to prove that the resettlement was legal and voluntary.

He is an essentially humane man, but one who doesn’t quite see the “prawns” as human, and his job is to get the paper work right, never mind the reasons for the resettlement.

Then he gets “infected” and starts turning into a “prawn” himself, a fact that greatly interests the (evil white) industrialists who have been experimenting on aliens trying to figure out how to use their biologically connected technology, especially their weapons.

One subplot are the Nigerian gangs who sell cat food (the local drug) and weapons. This annoyed the government of Nigeria greatly, but the idea was inspired by recent “xenophobic” attacks on foreigners living in South Africa, mainly refugees from Zimbabwe.

The rest of the film is a routine “shoot ’em up” where the bureaucrat allies with an alien, full of action that should please the teenage movie goer.

But during the fight, the desperate bureaucrat gradually starts to see the alien as an equal being.

So is it a “great” film, as Harry at “Ain’t it Cool” news claims it to be? Or just another dirty cliche ridden violent action film?

I don’t know. But unlike the preachy remakes of “When the Earth Stood Still”, it is a satisfying film that leaves one haunted by the universal question: Who is my brother?


Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. Her website is Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket, and she writes about Africa at MakaipaBlog.

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