District 9 re-imagines the classic alien invasion as a refugee story. It’s a powerful movie, directed by Neill Blomkamp and produced by Peter Jackson. It was nominated for four Academy Awards, including best picture. District 9 tells the story of a government worker who is accidentally transformed slowly into the aliens he’s supposed to monitor. The aliens have landed after ostensibly fleeing from their own home-world. After a brief celebration it quickly becomes clear that all those other movies skipped over the part where the aliens need resources and documentation. They are, after all, refugees, and who wants to deal with some few thousand of those?
I am constantly reminded of Disctrict 9 in today’s migrant politics. And it is its own breed of politics. From those who brave the Mediterranean to those who cross mountains at night, safe soil might as well be galaxies away and yet they go. On the weekend of January 30th the president passed a law that immediately prohibited those of certain countries and immigrant statuses (which was quickly recalibrated by the Defense Department) from coming back into the States. The #muslimban quickly went viral. His administration has also assured the public that the infamous “border wall” is really happening, and it looks as though the American taxpayers will foot the bill.
The point is not to discuss the various injustices, but about what this says to the people on the other side of the wall.
District 9 ends with Christopher, an alien, stealing away the mothership and leaving. Because it is a “found footage” movie, talking heads analyze the situation before the credits roll. People are frightened now. The aliens haven’t been treated well, but now that one of them has left and ostensibly gone back to alert the rest of the aliens, who’s to say he won’t come back with an actual invasion in a few years? The aliens have been persecuted and now, for the first time since they’ve landed, they have the capability of revenge.
The biggest idea behind the #muslimban and the wall is that our country is ostensibly under attack from migrants, and it must be protected from them. As the online edition of the New York Times said that weekend, “Reince Priebus, the White House chief of staff, said Mr. Trump simply did what he had promised on the campaign trail and would not gamble with American lives.”
They must be contained, for the safety of both our peoples and theirs. A few but prominent conservative politicians would even argue that their core values come into direct opposition with Western values, the same way aliens are portrayed in District 9. They are too strange, and dangerous to anything that stands in their way, so it’s best to have the authorities make the big decisions and keep everyone as safe as possible.
The aliens in the movie are criticized for their drain on the South African economy and their use of resources without giving anything back. It’s not discussed whether integration in the government committees assigned to the aliens or in the workforce have ever been tried. I don’t think that’s the point Neill Blomkamp was trying to make.
The unwillingness of humans to change is what created this mess in the first place. No one wants these aliens, no one wants their drain on resources, no one wants them endangering their families. However, because they are kept separate there is a lot of suffering going on. And that backfires.
History has taught us time and time again that screwing over an entire peoples just because you have the power to will eventually come back around. Rome was sacked by the Visigoths who came to the Roman countryside as refugees and were starved and turned into slaves.
That doesn’t make it right, of course. This isn’t a game of “getting even.” But it does introduce the danger of someone stealing away a mothership, and coming back to us with an armada. Is that a risk we can take?