The District 9 Debate: Excellent Film… Or Overrated?

Published 6 years ago by , Updated September 8th, 2009 at 10:04 pm,

district 9 header1 The District 9 Debate: Excellent Film... Or Overrated?

We here at Screen Rant make it a point to stay engaged with our readers (if you haven’t seen our epic comment sections) and usually – albeit after much debate – our forums reach some kind of equilibrium of opinion – if only settling into the usual left, right, middle ground spectrum.

The reaction to District 9, Neil Blomkamp’s feature-film debut about refugee aliens living in Johannesburg, South Africa, has been surprising. While the movie is earning high praise from critics (including us) and enjoyed a strong opening weekend at the box office, there is still a minority opinion floating around that this film isn’t as great as people are saying it is. And, despite high praise from just about all of us on the Screen Rant staff, there have been some strongly expressed criticism from a considerable pool of our readership.

So let’s talk about it! What is so right (or so wrong) about District 9?

[WARNING: This Article Contains Heavy Spoilers about District 9]


Ok, so the elephant in the room to address first is the whole Alien/Refugee analogy that District 9 (purposely or incidentally – I’m sure it’ll be said to be both) inspires. This issue alone has sparked some strong differences in opinion about whether the film should have taken this particular narrative approach and/or whether it succeeds in it.

district nine ver3 The District 9 Debate: Excellent Film... Or Overrated?

As to the question of whether or not the film SHOULD HAVE taken the analogous approach: not really anybody’s (but the filmmakers) place to say. However, I will say that sci-fi at its BEST has always been about analogous storytelling – something fantastic as hyperbole for something real and relevant – an whenever the genre leans too far toward the “something fantastic” end of things without accommodating the “something real and relevant” part, sci-fi becomes little more than a playground for geeks.

District 9 took a bold (risky?) step with its narrative angle. But after two viewings of the film I maintain that it succeeds – not only because it gets my mind thinking beyond the fantastic elements of sci-fi and about the world around me – but because it does so while never failing to provide plenty of nourishment for the imagination. District 9 also forced me to (for the first time) be critical of certain conventions of the sci-fi genre that (IMHO) have long gone unquestioned:

Why do we always assume that aliens who have advanced technology are automatically “better” than us?

What if alien society was as flawed and often dysfunctional as human society?

Blomkamp himself made it clear during the District 9 panel at Comic-Con this year that the “Prawns” were inspired by the concept of insects who have been separated from their leadership (forcibly emancipated in a sense) and are facing the challenges of thinking and fending for themselves.

So what if Aliens had to face the same individualistic choices and challenges we humans face? Some would kill, some wouldn’t; some would excel physically or mentally, some wouldn’t; some would be compassionate, some wouldn’t; they’d each make their own choices, have their own emotions, politics,  etc…


…I never realized until District 9 how easily (or for how long) sci-fi has been spoon-feeding us the notion of monotonous alien races. It’s mostly, “Hey we’re Klingons and we’re like this!” or “We’re Predators and we do this!” Then we eventually get that one autonomous alien who is the conflicted exception to the stereotype rule – or, at best, an alien culture split into fractions by some kind of superficial/ideological difference. What District 9 presented was a much fresher and challenging concept to deal with: an alien race that doesn’t have its s@#$ together.

district 9 alien The District 9 Debate: Excellent Film... Or Overrated?

Now, I’m not fighting some crusade for diversity rights for “alien actors” – don’t get me wrong. What I’m  saying is that District 9 managed to present an interesting and (here is the important part) thought-provoking concept of individuals and society (alien or human) by holding it up against a worldly situation we can understand. That’s good sci-fi, and to write it off or not acknowledge it as such I believe is unfair.

But of course, some people have argued (you can check our comment thread) that (to paraphrase) ‘using aliens as a sort of bait-and-switch for a “Woe is Africa” message’ is the FARTHEST thing from originality.

I don’t think it needs to be debated that District 9 does in fact try to say something about South Africa (or maybe Africa as a whole?) and the experiences of its peoples. But hey, naysayers, all that stuff about a fresh look at aliens and new conventions introduced into the sci-fi genre, is also taking place in this film. The movie is always working on (at least) two levels; I know that a lot of people these days don’t bother to read great literature, but historically speaking, the greatest stories told are usually the ones that work on multiple levels while effectively relating a central tale.

District 9 – for better or worse – inspires new considerations about a fantastic concept (aliens) while simultaneously giving us new reason to consider the realities of our own world. Sounds like an accomplishment to me.

Continue reading The District 9 Debate

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  1. hello

    I just stumbled upon this article, and I must say it was a pleasure reading it (even with the spelling errors
    which happens when you put great effort into colorful writing).

    yes, I love D9 even before all the reviews and popularity, I thought it was very well done on so many levels.
    even the marketing campaign was very well done.
    I can’t help but watch it again and yes maybe even again.

    I agree on the points in your review, we truly live in the golden age of mediocrity, an age I hope will
    soon come to an end. so called reality TV must die!!!


    a movie about facebook – are you effen kidding me?!!!

  2. Hi guys,
    I only found this article by accident but I just want to add my two cents now.
    After having watched district 9 a year ago I have almost completely forgotten it by now.
    Not becouse it is a terrible movie, not becouse it has a lame message or even bad acting. No I have forgotten it becouse it just wasn’t that impressive overall and I would never call it a sci-fi classic. The movie starts off with a great premise but it is trying so hard to convey its message that by the end I have not really cared for the characters or even the actual story yet. What I think most people who praide the movie so much becouse of its cutural relevance forget, is that being spot on with your message does not make it a brilliant movie.

    The reason why I prefer message laden sci-fi such as the new battlestar galactica and maybe even firefly (along with the movie serenity) better than district 9 is becouse they first and foremost tell a story about strong characters. Where in my opinion district 9 falls short, is that it is essentially a story about a conflict that happens to envolve characters. In the end it makes the world of district 9′s characters just as forgetable as most refugees faces you see on tv.

    Don’t get me wrong it is a good movie it’s just not great, but it was darn close. Becouse by the time you finally get to see something of the heart of these characters, their motivations, their real aspects that matter, the entire movie transforms into a michael bay flick and ends on a completely over the top holywood note that left me careless for District 9 and its world.

  3. My son and I watch D9 twice in theaters when it came out. Watched it on DVD again today. We both think it’s a great movie.

    Am I the only one trying to find out if the small ship in D9 was inspired by Firefly? Same two engines…