The Alien as ‘Other’ in District 9
„Alien‟ as a noun refers to those who have come from elsewhere and are
foreigners or strangers to their surroundings. „
Alien‟ as an adjective describes something so “foreign or different it is
incomprehensible or incompatible”.
The aliens District 9are….
…seen asrepulsive, skittish scavengers with crustacean-like features (they are
referred to as „Prawns‟) who feed on cat food.
….. the evil threat from outer space and are the opposite of our western civilized
…..However, despite their appearances, almost immediately the audience
senses that, even if they are somewhat unpredictable in their behaviour, they
are not villainous because the whites behave far worse.
Victims of an apartheid system
Stranded on earth by a glitch in their navigation system, they are forced into
make-shift concentration camps.
Ultimately they are refugees in an alien world which rejects them.
They are treated barbarically living in squalid circumstances and left to fend for
With no means to communicate properly with the dominant white race (although
some can interpret their clicks) they are denied basic rights.
In this sense, the aliens are read as the blacks of an apartheid era who with no
voice against the white man, are deprived of basic „human‟ needs.
Allegory for racial division
As the representations of the alien develop, it is no longer a simple metaphor for
apartheid but more like an allegory for racial division.
The aliens are shown to be „like us‟: they have kinship systems, they are
supremely intelligent, they are parents and love their children, they want to
„belong‟ and return to their home.
For example, Christopher Johnson, (this giving of Western Christian names was
also common practice amongst slaves who took on the names of their owners)
is the leader of the aliens and is shown to be a caring father, highly intelligent
and most of all increasingly desperate.
Aliens as ‘others’
The aliens are „othered‟ on many levels in District 9.
1. They do not belong on earth although their own ship hovers above the city, this
is a reminder to the audience that they are from an „Other‟ place.
2. They are physically segregated and not allowed to assimilate with humans, but
neither are they helped to leave.
3. They are physically „Other‟ to human form.
4. The could be said to be „Othered‟ within their own group as the fight to survive
as individuals ultimately breaks down their sense of community and „natural‟
hierarchy. Only Christopher Johnson, their leader, is able to focus on repairing
Juxtaposed with this complex, but ultimately positive and empathetic
representation of the alien, is the representation of „the whites‟.
Apartheid refers to the 46-year South African regime that was a system of
racial segregation. It removed citizenship from black people, provided them with
inferior public services (healthcare, education, etc), and incorporated ‘forced
removals’ to ensure separation. In Afrikaans, ‘apartheid’ means ‘separateness’.
Holocaust is the term used to refer the extermination of many Jewish people
and other people within minority groups by the Nazis in World War II.
These „no non-human‟ and „for humans only‟ signs are in the film and were also
used as part of the marketing campaign. They can be seen as metaphors for
racial segregation, not only in South Africa, but, perhaps, as part of the historical
segregation of blacks in the U.S.