Alyssa Rosenberg on District 9, the new sci-fi film that uses space aliens kept in an isolated zone in South Africa as a metaphor for apartheid:
The movie is set in South Africa, and the trailers have featured folks with a variety of local accents, and the details of the plot we know so far, that a group of aliens have been set up in a restricted zone for 30 years, sets up a very clear parallel with the township and pass sytem used to restrict the movements of black Africans under apartheid. And the more I’ve thought about it, I think an alien-human confrontation might be a useful metaphor for apartheid. It’s one I’m slightly uncomfortable with, because it relies on an assumption that the people being imprisoned and the people imprisoning them actually are fundamentally different, which supports an underlying assumption that supported apartheid. But District 9 appears to be in part a movie about what happens to people who perpetrate an oppressive system, and what happens to people who are isolated entirely from the civilization that’s chosen to imprison them. Maybe using aliens to represent justifiable a violent resistance makes us more comfortable with Umkhonto we Sizwe–or at least about talking about the fact that violent resistance to apartheid may have been necessary, even as anger against apartheid helped spur resistors to forms of violence that seem horrifying and unjustifiable, like necklacing. The attitudes of the apartheid regime are reprehensible–this was a government that did biological weapons research for use incontrolling internal dissent–but it still seems worthwhile to learn how those attitudes developed, accreted, and became morally debilitating. The trailers for District 9 so far seem to suggest that the aliens just want to leave peacefully, though they are shown in violent confrontation with humans.