District 9: Who Are the Real Illegal Aliens?

By Henry B. Rosenbush

South African born Neil Blomkamp, who started in visual effects before turning to directing, brings an interesting twist on the illegal alien scenario with the upcoming science fiction film, District 9

The subject of illegal aliens, or immigrants or whatever one wishes to designate them, is always a divisive topic that few rational people will ever understand. We are all humans, yet race, gender, wealth, education and religion (to name a few) divides the entire planet into different camps. District 9 is one such camp created to seperate humans and “non-humans” and long before English imports came to the shores of the northern continent and began forcing the Indian occupants across the country humans have been enslaving, torturing and killing one another. Hebrews were enslaved by Egyptians; women have been enslaved by men; blacks were enslaved by whites and the list of one race exerting power or control over another is rampant throughout the world making any complete list impossible. Everything from religious beliefs – or disbeliefs – to government sanctioned hatred leads to “ethnic cleansing, a phrase made all the more twisted by the fact only the human mind could conceive and execute such horrific plans.

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In 1988, the film Alien Nation (it was followed by a short-lived television series and several mid-90s Made-forTV movies) addressed the ugliness of immigrants facing anger and resentment but the twist was these “Newcomers” were extraterrestrials. The film was uneven but offered a stellar (pardon the pun) performance by Mandy Patinkin as an alien detective assigned to ride with bigoted cop James Caan, whose human partner was killed by drug-running Newcomers.

It was basically a genre hybrid of police procedural and science fiction allegory and exposed the human weaknesses of distrust and hatred for all things different. In the end, it teetered on buddy film as the raw-beaver eating George (Patinkin) and Matthew (Caan) finally settled their differences to work together and bring down alien drug lord William Harcort (Terrence Stamp), who had assimiliated well into human high society.

John Sayles offered a lower budget variation with an alien-in-the-hood, in the effectively low-key, but highly cerebral, The Brother From Another Planet (1984). The film deposited The Brother (Joe Morton) in Harlem after he escaped from a planet where he was enslaved. His unique talent comes in the form of technical wizardy; he can fix a pinball machine by touching it. The mute brother is protected by other brothers when white alien bounty hunters (director Sayles and David Strathairn) come to take him home.

By far one of the most startling displays of human meanness towards aliens occurs in the finale of Nicholas Roeg’s The Man Who Fell To Earth (1976) based on the Walter (The Hustler) Tevis novel. This cult favorite was proof singer/musician David Bowie was a superb actor and his performance as Mr. Sussex is riveting and always visually arresting thanks to cinematographer-turned-director, Roeg. Having come to save his dying planet, which has consumed all of its water and natural resources (sound eerily familiar?), parleys inventions into a vast and wealthy empire with the hope of transporting water back home, but in the end he is consumed by earthly vices; gin, sex, greed, etc. and is finally destroyed by the influences with no small help from the government who wants to control him. His friends turn against him and the ones who don’t are murdered.

Plagued by nightmarish dreams of his family succumbing on the bone-dry planet, the film was more an allegory than standard science fiction film. When doctors remove his protective lens and use X-rays that destroy his unique abilities the audience feels as powerless as Sussex. He can never return home and in the end he is reduced to just another reclusive, eccentric alcoholic.

The Terminator films introduced mistrusted aliens be they cybernetic killer robots or future versions of present day humans who find themselves unwelcomed in the 20th and 21st Century. In fact, to that end, the entire series posits that Skynet is involved in human race ethnic cleansing in order to rid the entire planet of humanoids. Even The Twilight Zone’s episode “People are alike all over,” ended with an astronaut, portrayed by Robby McDowell, finding himself caged in a Martian zoo to the delight of the visitors who look upon him as an animal; just another alien species.

How well was Bumblebee treated in Transformers? Electro-shocked. The real menace, Megatron was dropped into the deepest part of the ocean rather than melted into scrape metal merely so it could later be revived in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen to wreak far more destruction on earth. John Carpenter’s Starman (1984) proposed what might occur if an advanced race answered our invitation from Voyager II (launched in 1977) to visit earth; we tried to capture and kill him. Surely, Klaatu in The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) expected warmer greetings even if his mission was to warn earth to confine our warring and prejudiced natures to our own planet.

A clever pop-culture-infused science fiction comedy, Joe Dante’s Explorers (1985), introduced the alien Wak who is fascinated by earth television, radio and movie broadcast signals. In numerous well-conceived vignettes, Wak, who has “captured” three young boys in their homemade space ship, displays scenes from a variety of sources, where aliens are mistreated and/or annihilated on earth. His shivering frightening reactions, he is after all a friendly child-like alien, speaks volumes and is an unlearned lesson to earth: all those signals of violence and hatred beaming into space say far more about the human species than the brief altruistic musings on the Voyager II disc.

Any intelligent life in the universe (and I believe there is plenty out there) would be foolish to merely land on earth expecting an olive branch of peace, especially if, like Wak, they have seen the myriad science fiction films depicting alien life forms as invaders and always destructive. Who are we kidding? Humans are the most destructive creatures to ever populate this planet and we prove it repeatedly throughout the continents and ages.

Oscar winning director Peter (Lord of the Rings Trilogy) Jackson produces this August 14th release; Rated R for Bloody Violence and Pervasive Language. District 9 looks particularly alarming as squalid South African ghettos are used to great effect as the captured bi-ped style insect aliens are forced to live separate from humans and under the control of a private company called Multi-National United (MNU). It seems the aliens, treated as refugees on earth, came here 28 years earlier and are the last of their species. Do humans welcome them? No, in fact, we somehow capture not only these visitors but their massive space craft as well making it impossible for them to leave earth.

MNU, who could care less about these mistreated visitors, stands to make huge profits if they learn how the alien’s weapons work, something they have been unable to achieve. MNU field operative Wikus van der Merwe (Sharlto Copley) becomes the most wanted man on the planet after he contracts an unusual virus causing his DNA to mutate and he finds his only refuge is to escape into District 9.

The website allows visitors to enter as human or alien and receive information about both races. Naturally, I entered as a non-human and as expected the voiceover is smug and advises rules and regulations that the aliens must follow, all of which are particularly dealienizing.

As one Public Service announcement promises:

“Keeping humans safe by keeping non-humans separate.” I pose a question: Who are the real illegal aliens?