Gwen Watkins

Is it only me but...?

Gwen Watkins is a freelance writer, editor, subeditor and author. Almost 40 years of experience across industrial and commercial writing, as a reporter and PR consultant, has given her expert grounding in brand communication and native advertising. A Master NLP Practitioner, she uses these skills within the creation of copywriting, annual reports, brochures and website copy.

[Review] Terrific and disturbing – District 9 is a hit

17 Aug 2009 11:36:00

Last week’s media preview of District 9, the new South African sci-fi film, left most of us quite shattered. Not expecting such a performance or to be so engrossed, the film may draw on recognised genres but it delivers the shock and uncomfortable recognition that Paul Verhoeven used to deliver. [video]

The film is deservedly gaining credit internationally but in South Africa it may well be greeted with uncomfortable reactions - the film unashamedly draws on our past and current view of species different to our perception of what is human and how we treat them.

The plot seems simple enough: an alien force landed in Johannesburg 20 years ago and, producing neither useful technology nor annihilation, has camped on the outskirts of the city, forming eventually a slum. The Multi-National United (MNU), a private corporation, runs the slum and now has been charged with removing all the aliens to a new camp much further from the city.

Most unlikely hero

Enter the most unlikely hero - picture your average small bank branch manager and you have Wikus van der Merwe (portrayed by Sharlto Copley).

His job is to knock on doors and get the aliens to sign an agreement to be evicted. Some of the ‘prawns,' as they are so charmingly called, refuse, some get violent and some clearly don't understand but he works his way through the camp like a true bureaucrat, until he meets Christopher Johnson and his son little CJ, aliens who have assumed human names as required to fit into the society in which they find themselves. Wikus is accidently sprayed with a contaminant and then during an exchange with an alien, injured as well.

Now infected with alien DNA, he holds the key to MNU's need to make alien technology work and, faced with no mercy from humans or MNU forces, he flees into District 9 as the only place where he can try to survive and make sense of his calamity. His disintegration from a happy family man into a hunted outcast and his integration into violence is a moving experience and the introduction of Nigerian gangsters and psychotic MNU enforcers makes it all too real.

The film is presented often as a newsreel or documentary footage and, by interspersing actual SABC footage, adds to the horribly real feeling of the film. This is far truer as to the way humans would deal with aliens - no cute ET moments or Independence Day mayhem - just grim township life on the edge of a dump.

South-African born director

Neill Blomkamp, the South African-born director, has spent many years in Canada as a visual effects artist and director of award winning ads, short films and was recognised as one of the Top 5 Directors to Watch at the First Board Awards, featured in the Saatchi & Saatchi New Directors Showcase at Cannes.

The producer, Peter Jackson, is world-renowned for his directing of the Lord of the Rings trilogy and he is quoted as saying, "Neill Blomkamp is a terrifically exciting young director. We were considering a production of Halo based on the video game. That movie never happened but we loved working with Neill so much that when he pitched us District 9, we decide it would be fun to turn his idea into a feature film."

Allegedly, according to YouTube, this a short film from Neill Blomkamp, which the movie District 9 is based off of.

Following its international launch late last week, it opens in South Africa on 28 August 2009. Ster-Kinekor is hosting a Red Carpet Premiere at The Zone@Rosebank, Johannesburg, on Wednesday, 19 September 2009, for Ster-Kinekor Movie Club Card Holders at normal ticket prices.

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[17 Aug 2009 11:36]

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Interesting way of dealing with the trauma's of the past-
I found your article very appealing. In finding ways to penetrate the hollywood machine with 'south african' stories, Blomkamp and Jackson have created a unique starting point for a modified hollywood formula that can perhaps 're-ignite' the dreary quality of the stories now being churned out of hollywood almost at will. what this film symbolizes for me is a turn to a much needed, 'globalized' broadcasting of the depth of trauma that apartheid left in its wake. I found a similar, thought-provoking article about District 9's metaphors in Peet du Plooy's article on The Economist's new blog site, The Unexpected Jozi (, entitled "Space Invaders"...a brilliant take on some of the symbolisms District 9 sought to deal with tackling the issue of segregationist apartheid community District 6, in Cape Town. very cool. thanks!
Posted on 21 Aug 2009 16:27
kzamats felling insulted-
I think you may have missed some of the sensitivity and subtlty of the casting. The parallel with our history is intentional. He also has to consider his international audience. He used SA actors and using Sotho is not jarring to 99 % of viewers. The term " Nigerians" is also symbolic. Please do not be hurt by the casting. It is not the intention of the film makers to hurt you. In this movie the real baddies are in any case white. Please look at the movie again bearing in mind the above. We need to slowly move on. Enjoy.
Posted on 2 Sep 2009 12:25