I am a huge fan of the Science Fiction and Fantasy genre (both movies and books). While there are many science fiction novels that address social issues, the genre has never been considered “serious” art. This despite the fact that science fiction has always been used as social commentary.
One of the things that was responsible for the less than stellar image of science fiction is the series of B movies that masqueraded as science fiction fare in the 1950s and earlier. The golden age of science fiction started in the 1960s when Stanley Kubrick made his seminal 2001: A Space Odyssey. The film changed the genre.
While there is still debate about the meaning of the movie, the very fact that the movie stirred such a conversation transformed the genre. I will not discuss that movie here, perhaps I will do so in another post if time permits. Writing such a blog post would deserve all my attention and I am currently operating on spare power 😀
Following this seminal movie, others followed suit. For example, Planet of the Apes occurs in a post apocalyptic Earth where apes become dominant to humans, and uses this inversion in roles to discuss ideas of xenophobia and racial equality. Several H. G. Wells novels were also made into movies in this era.
The following decades saw the rise of the science fiction genre as, mainly, a form of escapist entertainment with little, if any, social commentary included. When social commentary did exist in these movies, it was sort of preachy and in your face.
All that changed, to me at least, with the 2009 movie District 9. The movie is set, aptly enough, in South Africa. At the beginning of the movie we see a large spacecraft arrive in Johannesburg. Once it opens its gates, the occupants are shown to be members of a lowly, hideous looking, worker-caste who appear to have been abandoned by their superiors.
They are taken in as refugees and the story unrolls from there. We see how the euphoria of first contact changes to hate when the occupants of the spacecraft do not live up to the expectations of their hosts. The aliens are placed in a camp and are segregated from the population of the city. However, even that is not enough. The citizens of Johannesburg clamor for the removal of what they see as inferior entities from their city.
Wikus van de Merwe, an Afrikaner, is tasked with relocating the aliens to another camp away from the city. At the beginning of the film, Wikus is portrayed as a weak and not particularly likable individual. He is openly racist towards the aliens and treats them with contempt. Unfortunately for him, he gets contaminated by alien fluid while overseeing the evacuation. This fluid begins to change his DNA. Slowly, he begins to change to the physiology of aliens — he begins to change into something he despises.
When this happens, human society rejects him. Even his own family, including, at first, his wife, disowns him. His father in-law considers him a business opportunity and tries to take advantage of him. Even after all this, we see him reluctant to let go of his prejudices against the aliens. While his own society shuns him, he still uses derogatory terms for the aliens and frantically tries to reverse the process that is turning him into one of them.
A point arrives in the story, will not give away the details here, at which he has to leave human society and join the aliens because he no longer fits into human society. While with the aliens he tries to find a way to reverse the process that is turning him into one of them.
We see his character grow as he begins to bond with the aliens and recognize their suffering. His changing DNA gives him another perspective on life and allows him to see how it feels to be treated as different and inferior. The movie is a great social commentary on racism and xenophobia. The most amazing part, is that the being that appears to be the most “human” is a hideous alien who is nauseating to look at.
Watch the movie, it is amazing. And if the above is not enough to convince you, you should know that the movies contains lots of amazing action scenes and suspense :D. All of this is achieved with relative non-entities. I can honestly claim that I did not recognize a single actor or actress in the movie. Despite the lack of well-known stars, the acting is top-notch. I highly recommend this movie.