Preparing us for the Era of Displaced Peoples: District 9

District-9-Wallpapers-Alien-Motherships-Guns-Helicopters-district-9-7039035-1920-1056District 9, Neill Blomkamp’s stunning directorial debut, is an intelligent science fiction movie, a disturbing Apartheid metaphor, but it might also be, unintentionally, a good look at the coming Global Diaspora and the problems of moving a whole nation of people inside another nation.  

The film asks what a country does when they are inundated, suddenly, with refugees or displaced peoples.  Johannesburg has a huge mothership hovering over the city, malnourished aliens trapped inside, and the city must make a quick decision.  To help or not to help?  They help.  But the problem of fitting a nation within nation becomes more than what the people can handle–more than what they want.  Long term care.   The people on the ground don’t want a whole nation moving into their world–people so alien.  The government had no precedent for what to do.  I know that Blomkamp is aiming for an Apartheid metaphor, but the sins of Apartheid will become our sins if we don’t come up with a plan on what to do with displaced peoples in the coming decades.

If Climate Change is occurring–whether man-made or not (the arguments shouldn’t stop precautionary measures)–Tuvalu, the island is sinking, and so are a number of other islands.  Their sinking isn’t the only problem.  The more water on the island, the more threat from disease, the more threat from storms, etc.  A very real scenario is that island populations will be forced to find other places to live–on the mainland.  That’s not a science fiction solution–that’s a practical prediction.  These migrations are not a bit of immigration for one country.  With the number of island nations we have in the world, this will be a LOT of immigration for every country.  

How do you put American Samoa inside Kansas, let’s say?  A nation within a nation.  WIll there be sovereignty issues to think about?  Yes.  What control do Samoans have over their life if they are in Kansas?  Or the Japanese inside Mainland China, or more likely, Canada?  

Climate change isn’t just about some places getting hotter or wetter; it is about changing the map entirely.

District 9, then, plays as a fable of what NOT to do, what CAN happen if governments are unprepared to consider wider immigration revision, sovereignty issues, incorporating whole cultures within nations, relocation plans.  I believe in the next thirty years that this will be a reality—that we will look at the country we’re living in and find separate, but integrated, countries within them, that people who lived on islands will have to choose new homes, erect temporary governments.  They will need everyone’s help.  

We can’t make it look like the photo from District 9 above.  But we have to have infrastructure prepared for a global movement of people.  I wonder when countries like ours in North America, China, Russia, with large land mass, and whole sections with low population, will realize that they may become the destination of a nation.  Johannesburg in the movie was caught off guard.  We don’t have to be.  We can be ready for large scale movements of people, ready to know how to integrate cultures.  

Canada has had some good prep already.  Known to be a country which allows new immigrants to keep their cultures intact, and a country that has been negotiating Land Claims and First Nation Sovereignty issues, they might start looking at ways they might use their plans for the Final Agreement on Land Claims to accommodate millions of new people looking for a home.  

I know, it’s freaky to think about, but I don’t think it’s far down the road.  

Immigration is about the resettlement of one or two families at a time, not whole cultures.  Refugees from Darfur come closer as a model.  Look at how that played out.  4 Million people were displaced in Sudan, and into Chad.  People escaping destruction.  They are still recovering, even as half of those people have returned home.  But what happens when it’s the whole nation and they can’t go back?  What do you do about their governments, their cultures, their possessions, integrating them into the workforce?  Can we wait to think about this?   Or will we have to build our own crudely-constructed District 9?  We are used to solving these problems by solving the political conflicts within a country—but water doesn’t recognize diplomacy.

Realistic Science Fiction: District 9

Scene-from-District-9-200-001This is an amazing film, both for what it sets out to do, and for what it accomplishes.  Taking the form of a documentary, it brings science fiction as close to real as I’ve ever seen it.  It is the documentary form, I think, that convinces a viewer that this is happening, or has happened.  

The film is about what would happen if aliens came to Earth powerless and malnourished.  Human kindness would collide with our own aversion to aliens and suddenly you have camps where the aliens are kept.  It’s a brilliant stroke to make this set in South Africa and not New York or LA or London.  

This film will surprise you at every moment.  I found myself, a film junkie, a sci-fi enthusiast, completely unprepared for where the movie would take me until it took me there.  The writing is superb.  You can’t find a traditional plot here anywhere.  

Certainly we’ve come to an age where we can make special effects seem real—Peter Jackson, the producer and Neill Blomkamp, the director, have gone out of their way to make you see the special effects as realistically as possible.  Yes, the insectoid aliens are CGI, but there’s not a lot of special effects here that are obvious.  God bless ’em, effects are being smoothed into a film now.  

This is not a mockumentary, whose job it is to make you laugh; it is filmed as a documentary to trick your brain into accepting its premise.  And it works.  I remember reading Dracula by Bram Stoker, as a kid.  And I hated the diary parts—but it is the story in letters that make that novel all the more horrifying because the author didn’t want it to seem like fiction.  They wanted you scared because these were actual letters.  It was more creepy to do it that way.  And this film, using documentary style–down to the archived tapes, the dates at the bottom, the steadycam moments–makes you think that someone pieced this together from twenty years of real footage.  Some of it is grainy, some of it is blurry.  

If you want realistic science fiction, you blend the techniques and technology we have now with the strange and possible technology; you bring in recognizable cultural reactions (the Nigerians scamming the aliens), historical patterns of behavior (Nazi experimentation), all without winking at the audience.  Letting them react.  They will think it’s real–because you have torn away what they expect in a movie.  

You expect a hero.  The main character is an idiot, really.  So, he’s not Bruce Willis.  He’s not super-intelligent, and rarely does the right thing.  But what an interesting character!   Again, if you are going for realistic science fiction, your main character may not be the best man or woman on the planet–but they are pivotal and they can learn.  A learning character is all you need.  

The movie is brilliant on many levels.  It works as a science fiction thriller, yes.  But it also works as a metaphor for immigration, for refugees, and for the slums that are in South Africa.  Anytime a people are empowered over another people, stupid things happen to us.  The main character of the movie really is us–as we treat other people as alien.  That shift of power is the focus of the film, I think, and makes the most poignant statement.  Given the right circumstances, human kindness can become dispassionate, cold power.

And what it takes to regain a sense of humanity, perhaps, is to lose it altogether.  But I won’t spoil any of the movie.  I’m so thrilled with the movie, I know that sci-fi junkies will love it and I know people who prefer realism and a smart script will love it.  

I also know that if you have a passion for oppressed people in the world, and the injustice present in nations around the world who have subjugated another race, then you will also find the reflection of that, and the reflection, maybe, of hope.