Aliens are coming to save us

2009-08-21 16:10
District 9 now is like Mandela was when I was a teenager – I'd seen a picture of his face, and I knew for sure he was coming to rescue us from Apartheid, but I didn't know how it would turn out.

I'm hoping District 9 is going to deliver South African movie-making from the categories "arty", "stupid" or "amateur" into which it has generally tended to fall. For that to happen, we need to be dragged onto the world stage and be forced to play with the big guys.

For much of my life, South Africa wasn't really part of the world – or so it seemed. We were like that unpopular smelly kid nobody invited to parties. We couldn't play sport with overseas people, like the cool nations. We didn't get to watch most overseas TV shows. If you took Xhosa second language at school, your Xhosa teacher couldn't speak it, and if you took English second language at school, your English teacher couldn't speak it.

We even completely missed the global 60s movement – fashion may have kept up, but my parents, at least, flat-out deny ever hanging out naked in ponds at music festivals, smoking dope and practising free love. I  had to introduce them to Hendrix.

If you were white, the closest you likely came to an equal relationship with black people was playing with your life-size E.T. doll.

And like those ugly, grey, communist-looking government buildings I visit to pay bills or fetch documents from people who don't know about the interwebs yet, our isolation is still more than symbolic. We're separate and unequal, not just in terms of the globe, but within South Africa, too.

And I, for one, am sick of being left out. I may not always be proudly South African, I'm certainly unavoidably, utterly, and loyally South African. And I'm at least proud of our democracy, which makes up for being one of the world's dirtiest by being also one of the world's most virile. I don't have to like Zuma or respect those he glamoured or frightened into electing him to say that.

Once, years ago, I was stuck in Bavaria, Germany, 2001. It was minus two centigrade. I was trying to get from Prague, where I'd spent two weeks getting flu in an unheated socialist communal bar, to Brixton, London, with two Dutch guilders to my name. I was all fired up with national pride, and burning nearly to death with fever. The Mexican dude giving me a lift stopped at a buddy's place in Bavaria and made me spend three days with a vegetarian Bavarian doing curative yoga, in a town with four houses, one butchery, enclosed in mist that made even the nearby Autobahn silent and invisible.

Everything was clean, green, lush and foreign. But bizarrely, on the first morning, I was given a cup of rooibos tea.

"Rooibos!" I said, recognising the revolting taste immidiately. The Bavarian shook his head sternly as he munched on his wholegrain granola. "No," he said, with a hippy-shake of his head. "Rötenbusch. Ro – ten - busch".

Watching most movies set in South Africa isn't all that different from being told how to say Rooibos in German. To them, Rotenbusch is a mythical drink. To me, it's just a horrendous alternative to real tea that blighted my childhood along with powdered skim milk, chicory, and not being allowed to watch Dallas. And you really have to be South African to understand that.

So what do I want from District 9? And what's that got to do with hitch hiking in other universes?

Well, I'm hoping for real, believable South African characters. I'm longing to see actors onscreen who don't sound German, or like some Jean-Pant caricature. I'm longing to see places and people I recognise transformed into famous people and places. Sure, this movie is only one scriptwriter and director's view of us. Sure, it's probably not a very positive one. But because I feel it's a step in the direction of us joining the rest of the world, I'm grateful.

I'm grateful to be represented by anything other than Leon Schuster's fart-farces, and also for any alternatives to those awkward, staged fiction movies starring foreign actors. Sure, District 9's technically a Hollywood production, because the production budget's from North America.

But if I get to finally point at the screen and say: "Yes! That's really us!" I really don't care if it takes an alien invasion to make it happen.

More D9 Stuff: The 10 things I love about D9, the actors and other movers and shakers behind the film, the trailer, and a gallery. Get it all. publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

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