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District 9: Aluta Continua

2009-09-01 16:35
The movie hasn't even been released yet, but I'm already bored by the total onslaught of District 9-related media.

It's as if every single entertainment hack in the country feels morally obliged to tell us how much we're going to enjoy a film that they haven't even seen yet. Well, I've seen the film, and after weighing up all the evidence and considering all the options, I've decided to go ahead and blame democracy for everything.

If D-9 had been made back in the good old days, we'd barely have been aware that the film even existed. It would have been banned outright, and the director would have been bound to a chair with a car battery attached to his genitals until he admitted that he was a filthy communist. Then he'd accidentally fall down a flight of stairs, or something. Communists were very clumsy back in those days.

If you're think that's ludicrous, remember that I'm talking about the same imbeciles who banned Jesus Christ Superstar, The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Pink Floyd's album, The Wall. And Deep Throat.

They also had interesting methods when dealing with entertainment they couldn't simply ban. In 1985, the SABC started airing the hit US sci-fi series, V (which, by the way, is being remade as we speak). Much like D-9, V is about shiploads of alien refugees seeking a new home on our planet – or ARE they? As it turns out, the aliens in V are just smooth-talking reptiles in disguise, who want to colonise Earth and turn humans into slaves [cue dramatic music] - and food!

Our human heroes take exception to this action plan, and launch an underground resistance movement. As humanity's freedom fighters, they do all sorts of cool things, like hijack TV stations to spread the word, and blow things up in an ongoing struggle to make the reptile regime ungovernable. They were very sexy, in a grungy kind of way.

This made for some great TV entertainment, but for the apartheid regime, it was uncomfortably close to the truth. Seizing the moment, the United Democratic Front distributed agitprop posters depicting Groot Krokodil PW Botha as a cold-blooded reptile disguised as a human – which, in retrospect, didn't exactly require a huge leap of the imagination. If it were true, PW's warty skin wouldn't have been a very good disguise, even by '80s standards.

Suddenly, the Nat-controlled SABC was in a quandary. They'd spent a fortune on a hugely popular series that was now being used as a propaganda tool against them. So instead of drawing attention to their embarrassment by discontinuing the series, they quietly relocated it to a different timeslot. V was unceremoniously shifted from its prime-time weekly evening slot to 11pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays, if I remember correctly. They also screened two episodes back to back – that's four per week - no doubt to get it over with as quickly as possible.

The result was that after the rescheduling, almost nobody saw V. It started when most working people were getting ready for bed, and ended well after 1am. And since the series was an ongoing story, most viewers soon lost track, and forgot the show even existed.

And that, folks, is how the SABC censored a TV show without actually censoring anything at all. Scaly bastards.

Like most good sci-fi, D-9 is also political – even more so than V – and brilliantly South African. Some might argue that the film's theme is xenophobia, but make no mistake; this is an apartheid movie through and through. The title, the "humans only" signs, the living conditions of the aliens, the segregation, the relocation and the role of the armed forced in civil unrest are all apartheid motifs the rest of the world recognises almost as quickly as we do. Ah, the memories!

The aliens are treated more like an infestation of roaches than like sentient beings, and the naïve Wikus van de Merwe (Sharlto Copley), echoes André Brink's reluctant hero Ben du Toit in the formally banned A Dry White Season, as he is transformed from an unwitting cog in an evil machine into… well, go see for yourself.

And if you're still not convinced, D-9 is packed with high budget explosions and fighting and death. Those alien weapons do some nasty things to the human body, which makes me wonder why they ever allowed themselves to be treated so badly in the first place. If the good guys had fire power like that back in the '80s, being depicted as a reptile would have been the least of PW's worries.

Column: Rampant Alien Nation

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