Monday, August 17, 2009

District 9

Amidst the sea of positive reviews, a few lone vessels carry a different message: District 9 is undeserving of the praise it's receiving.  While it surely meets and exceeds the expectations for  a "summer blockbuster," the reviewers attempting to describe the film as anything but just that, a summer blockbuster, are painting an inaccurate picture.  Director Neil Blomkamp has constructed a flawed film that resorts to stereotypical undertones which seem out of place in such a state-of-the-art project.  

District 9's most serious problem comes with the film's portrayal of racial groups, specifically, the portrayal of all Nigerians as violent, cannibalistic savages.  Within the ninth district, the area of Johannesburg  where the government have placed the extraterrestrials, a gang of Nigerians (the only Nigerians represented in the film and who are only referred to as "Nigerians") extort the "prawns" through food scams and unfair trades.  

Besides their shady business deals, the entire Nigerian people are shown as voodoo/black magic practicing madmen.  A wild-maned woman dances around holding a bloody alien limb, encouraging the gang leader to feast upon the meat in order to gain supernatural powers.  The scene is reminiscent of the James Bond film Live and Let Die as well as countless older films and cartoons in which the dark man is depicted as savage.  

It's also not okay to subtitle the Nigerian characters when they speak English--especially when the equally incomprehensible white characters are not.

One reviewer who's been receiving much flack for his negative review of District 9 is New York Press' Armond White.  His review, entitled, "From Mothership to Bullship" has sparked a lot of controversy and name-calling.  The whole mess escalated as Roger Ebert stepped to White's defense only to renege shortly after.  Campaigns have been organized against White and hoards of online scribes have called for his job. 

What is it about D9  that's causing so many intelligent people to act so defensive/hostile against naysayers?  Is it because the film takes place outside of the U.S.?  Because it features arguably inaccurate allegories involving South African apartheid?  Or are bloggers just really happy to see a sci-fi flick a little different than the rest?  Whatever it is, the swarm of praise is getting ridiculous and what's disappointing about the whole situation is that films like Bigelow's The Hurt Locker will get pushed aside when it comes time to remember Summer '09.      


Thomas Pluck said...

I think the same people who trumpet District 9 as having more depth than Lethal Weapon 2 are the same folks who think True Blood is important because vampirism is an allegory for homosexuality, or whatever. It doesn't matter if your story alludes to historical events we abhor or revere, it has to be intelligent about it.

Armond White is obviously a gadfly who likes riling people, but he's not crazy, or stupid. He can make cogent arguments for his opinions, which I don't often agree with, but I usually read. Why? Because unlike the ravings of online fanboys and the "entertainment minded" critics of the MSM, he details his arguments and knows why he likes or hates something, even when he's wrong.

Ed Howard said...

I have to say, I enjoyed District 9 for roughly the same reasons as I enjoy True Blood: it's vibrant, slightly goofy, visceral fun that loosely riffs on important social issues only in order to deliver thrills. Do I think anyone who finds real deeper substance in this film is badly misguided? Yeah, its attempts at allegory are a total mess. But it doesn't mean I can't enjoy it for a simple, well-made thrill ride, despite my problems with it.

I have to say, though, the only thing sillier than thinking District 9 is a coherent social parable is thinking Armond White makes coherent arguments for anything. He has spurts of logic mingled with whole paragraphs where he does nothing but drop names of other filmmakers more or less at random, including the obligatory Spielberg reference that I swear is in EVERY REVIEW I've ever read by the guy. The funniest reference in this is a random hat tip to You, the Living, a film I liked a lot myself, but I just can't see any plausible connection whatsoever between a deadpan Scandanavian dark comedy and a mainstream alien action blockbuster. I don't know, he's fascinating in a trainwreck kind of way, and he's not even really wrong about this film, but I just can't take him seriously as a critic at all.

Jason Bellamy said...

Good post, and thoughtful comments.

Elgringo: "The scene is reminiscent of the James Bond film Live and Let Die as well as countless older films and cartoons in which the dark man is depicted as savage." Indeed!

Tommy: "It doesn't matter if your story alludes to historical events we abhor or revere, it has to be intelligent about it." Indeed, again!

Ed: That's a great summary of White. Thanks to the link here, I just read his review, and what's so telling is that it's riddled with a contrarian spirit that cheapens what are some smart observations (not always smartly argued) about the film. What we're left with, as usual, is the sense that he's more interested in being "right" by being different than in being "right" based on his analysis. He's exhausting...and not just because he frequently writes sentences that are only illustrative to him.

Fox said...

I'm a big fan of Armond White's (I think he's the best film writer/culture critic we have), but I don't find any of y'alls objections to him outlandish. We disagree, but we do we not?

A writer that provokes as much as White does - and I think he does it in a healthy way - should expect blowback, and I have no problem with all of the fierce, thoughtful, arguments made against his opinions. (Again, I believe that's part of what makes him valuable... the debate he creates).

My problem with the commenters on White's District 9 review, and also with the comments on his GI Joe review (where I totally I disagreed him), and most horrendously on the Funny People review (where I again disagreed with White) is that people got so angry and just started calling him names instead of arguing merits.

Most horribly - and I dont know if anyone has brought this up yet - was when some commenters got racial in the comments to his Funny People review. That's one reason why I don't like unsupervised comment sections, especially when anonymous/John Doe people comment. Here is the link. Hopefully a site administrator has cleaned it up, but two people used the "N" word and another accused him of waving his "gorilla arms" (I feel gross even typing that) around.

White challenges me, and I like that. If those commenters can't handle it and they can only resort to "you suck" arguments, then it only reinforces how correct he is about many of the fans of the movies he rips.

Daniel said...

Agree with all, and I think Ed captures my thoughts really well here (even though I haven't seen True Blood). I had a good enough time watch D9, but never was I accepting of any message it was trying to deliver. All sense of meaning was abandoned after the first 10 minutes. Nice set-up, but let's call it what it is - a set-up.

Sean Baker said...

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My email is

Fletch said...

I'm sickened that a reviewer's words have overtaken the story of the film and its relative merits and demerits. It's like it's an afterthought anymore, and I just want to stop feeding the beast. We're all critics here in some way, shape or form, and I'd feel the same way if it were my words. Not placing blame on anyone in particular, though it's really, really, really, really hard not to put some in the corner of the obvious publicity hound that shall not be named.

I'm really glad that Tarantino's flick is coming out in two days, as it will no doubt conjure up similarly strong reactions and perhaps kill the story here.