Is District 9 racist towards Nigerians?

“…The film clearly denigrated Nigeria’s image by portraying us as if we are cannibals, we are criminals… The name [of] our former president was clearly spelt out as the head of the criminal gang and our ladies shown like prostitutes sleeping with extra-terrestrial beings…”
This is what Nigerian Information Minister Dora Akunyili, said about the new Sci-Fi movie District 9 showing in some theatres now.

The Nigerian government has since banned the film in the country and is demanding an offical apology from Sony Pictures Entertainment, who have yet to comment. Is the Nigerian government right to ban the film? Do you think it’s racist?

The film in which aliens nicknamed “Prawns” face eviction from their slum in Johannesburg, is facing a lot of heat for portraying Nigerians in a negative light. The top Nigerian gangster in the film is called Obesandjo, which closely resembles the last name of of Nigeria’s ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo.

A facebook group called ‘Distric 9 Hates Nigerians’ was formed in which some describe the film as ‘ridiculous’ and ‘sad’. Prince Adetunji commented on the page saying:
“I was totally disgusted by that movie’s obvious hate for Nigierans.It had me walking out the theatre saying “Nigerians don’t behave like that.I’ve had to enlighten many of my friends on the dislike many South Africans have for Nigerians.”

This blogger diasgrees and feels that the facebook group has been hastily formed. The blog argues:

“If District 9 really does hate Nigerians, it clearly hates its powerful, white characters even more. Objecting to Nigerians being portrayed as morally bankrupt criminals seems pointless when almost every group of characters in the film have little or no regard for the law…Despite initially appearing powerless, the Nigerians exert a tremendous amount of power over the aliens by controlling their weapons and food supply. These power struggles are an everyday reality in District 9’s slums, emulating the country’s real-life problems during the same period in which the film is set.”

In her blog, Nnedi Okorafor, describes hers and her daughters’ reaction to the film:
“Our whispered cursing really started when the film got to… “The Nigerians”. It was all downhill from there. I’d say this was the whitest big budget “African science fiction” film ever but really it’s the ONLY big budget “African Science fiction” film ever. Go figure. Even when the mainstream science fiction film is set on the “Dark Continent”, the central character is still white, ha ha, wow.”

Tolu Olorunda criticises the media and says:
“Each time mainstream news channels deem Africa worthy of coverage, the images never seem to develop beyond a one-dimensional approach that leads most viewers into thinking all Africans live in huts, are struck with life-threatening diseases, and can’t speak the English language.”
He also criticises hollywood and says:
“…Peter Jackson decided to create a movie in which Nigerians are revealed to be alien-eating, imbecilic prostitutes.”

Do you think Hollywood is racist towards Africans? Do you think Africans are too sensitive when watching films where African characters are portrayed?

32 Responses to “Is District 9 racist towards Nigerians?”

  1. September 21, 2009 at 10:39

    LGD on Twitter says,
    “D9 didn’t portray *all* Nigerians. Just a gang that happened to be from Nigeria.”

    • September 21, 2009 at 11:33

      Wow. Talk about creating a Buzz for a movie. Confession time: I did’nt see this movie when it was popular a month & a 1/2 ago. & Have up till now completely forgotten about it. I’m a little interested in seeing the movie..just a little. Probably won’t tho. Why? Cause thinking about it…When that movie came out it was very popular. They called it a summer sleeper (I think). But since then (after its 2nd week) I hav’nt heard anything about it. As in nothing! Which prob. tells me it was a ‘abuzz’ movie…but prob. actually stunk. I’ll wait awhile. Till Nigerians take to the streets and start burning movie theaters & video stores that have something to do with the movie in the name of National Pride. I’ll wait till they start throwing their TV-o’s and DVD players out their Condo windows. Yea I think they got a case: sue the Extra Terrestrials.

  2. September 21, 2009 at 11:44

    More comments coming in on Twitter:

    Klasco says,
    “No, Just because they’re black doesn’t [mean] they can call every little thing racist. Sure they used a stereotype but not racism….”

    mumakeith says
    “I dont think it was racist. Its a movie. Fiction. It was an over reaction from the Nigerian Government.”

    Do you agree with Mumakeith?

  3. 4 Nduka Tolefe
    September 21, 2009 at 12:01

    If Nigeria feels insulted then they need to make their own films that are also insulting, it has to be tit for tat there’s no point in getting all upset afterall they have their famous nollywood.

  4. 5 VictorK
    September 21, 2009 at 12:24

    There’s a big difference between a race and a nationality. ‘Nigerian’ has nothing to do with the first and so, to answer the question, no: there’s no issue of ‘racism’.

    Does the film portray Nigerians badly? Supposing it does, so what? Are there no bad Nigerians out there? Does the film claim that all Nigerians are bad? Don’t Nigerians – to those who actually know something about the country – do a much better job of portraying themselves badly to the rest of the world? Why should anybody who isn’t a Nigerian care about how Nigerians are portrayed? Why would a typical Nigerian, deep in poverty, without basic services, ruled by kleptocrats and incompetents, and struggling to get by each day, care in the slightest about a movie?

    This isn’t a story people should waste too much time on, given what’s happening in the real world.

  5. 6 patti in cape coral
    September 21, 2009 at 13:01

    I saw the movie and really enjoyed it. I felt it was more a love story/social/political commentary about people in general, not Nigerians in particular. It could have been any group of people, unfortunately. I was surprised to see this topic on WHYS, I didn’t realize people were offended. I thought the movie reflected negatively on every race portrayed, maybe with the exception of the prawns. No race looked very good in this movie.

    • 7 patti in cape coral
      September 21, 2009 at 14:39

      @ VictorK- I stand corrected, please replace the word “race” with “nationality” every time it occurs in my comment above. As I said, only the aliens were marginally portrayed in a positive light (only compared to the rest ).

  6. 8 Dinka Aliap Chawul-Kampala,Uganda
    September 21, 2009 at 13:25

    Movie’s money vs African traditions

    I vehemently disagree with Mumakieth.I think it was the moral responsibility of the Nigerian govt to censor anti-African movies,i hope other African states follow the footsteps of the Nigerian govt.Bravo,Mrs Akunyili………

  7. 9 scmehta
    September 21, 2009 at 13:57

    The said stuff of the movie is definitely poor in taste. But, here again, it is an intolerant reaction, when we go blaming the whole Hollywood film industry just because one indiscreet film maker happened to be headless. However, the movie must be withdrawn, re-edited and cut out of the objectionable/controversial portions before it is re-screened.

  8. 10 NSC London
    September 21, 2009 at 15:40

    I don’t think any race came off looking very good in District 9.

    Isn’t the real question, “was this film racist towards prawns?” I thought the portrayal of the prawns was most offensive.

  9. 11 Dave in Florida
    September 21, 2009 at 15:53

    Anyone could find something racisit or gender insulting in almost any movie. Have we really become this hyper-sensitive that we can no longer even enjoy movies? Apparently the answer is yes.

  10. September 21, 2009 at 16:17

    To be perfectly honest, the Nigerian Government to complain about a movie is a bit sad.
    Why dont they concentrate of the people that scam the world from Nigeria and they really do give the country and people a bad name.
    It makes the world think all Nigerians are bad, which they are not.

  11. 13 Mountain Adam, Portland, Oregon USA
    September 21, 2009 at 16:43

    I saw the film, liked it, and think it portrays the white people in the most negative light. Afrikaaners in particular. Due to South Africa’s political past the white folks there will not have a voice in speaking thier outrage at being portrayed as monsters in this film. By the way whoever came up witht he title of this post should rethink it. Nigerians are not race unto themselves. Duh!

  12. 14 Tracy in Portland, OR
    September 21, 2009 at 17:24

    It was a movie. Get over it. If it was trying to say anything it’s how we de”humanize” people. How many slums like the fictional one in the movie exist. How much more offensive is it that people are are kept in the kinds of conditions that the aliens where in. Maybe it’s so offensive because we don’t like looking in a mirror. Sometimes it’s uncomfortable what we see.

    Tracy Portland OR, USA

  13. 15 Ibrahim in UK
    September 21, 2009 at 17:25

    I think it becomes an issue if the theme is consistently repeated again and again such that it creates and/or reinforces a negative stereotype.
    The impressions we have of people, nationalities, races are based on our interactions with them. “Interaction” through film and media also influences our attitudes towards people, especially if that’s the only interaction we have. A consistently negative portrayal in the media will create a negative opinion.

  14. 16 Craig
    September 21, 2009 at 17:41

    It is a film about racism. The main character is a racist, his black co-workers are racist, all the humans in the film are racist. You could as easily view the Nigerians in the film as entrepreneurs.

  15. 17 Jennifer
    September 21, 2009 at 17:48

    This was a creepy movie; gross in some parts. However, I fail to see any correlation between race and the Nigerians in this movie. I think some are being way too sensitive about this. If it was a gang of another nationality would there be the uproar? I don’t think so.

    Re: Do you think Hollywood is racist towards Africans? Do you think Africans are too sensitive when watching films where African characters are portrayed?

    Race, race, race, blah blah blah when will people stop throwing around race!

  16. 18 Daniel
    September 21, 2009 at 18:01

    The movie is god awful but its not racist. A bit if an over reaction i think.

  17. 19 David
    September 21, 2009 at 18:41

    It’s interesting to me that Democrats try to rally the support of all parties when they have their selected candidate in office.

    I think many Americans would have an easier time supporting Obama if he stuck to even a bit of his campaigning promises. Internet and technology aside, the people need to feel that their president is honest.

  18. 20 eric sievering
    September 21, 2009 at 18:59

    I think we live an era of criticism where it’s easier to tear someone down and not so easy for someone to stand as a real leader. I think we need to remember how much he has achieved in a matter of months and the systemic obstacles he faces every day to implementing change. Remember change is never easy.



  19. 21 leo goki
    September 21, 2009 at 20:14

    Personally as a Nigerian i feel that in some aspects Nigeria was represented badly, but on the other hand no race was represented particularly in a good light, what i am against is the action by the minister of education ordering the film to stop being shown in Nigerian cinema houses, this action stinks of media censorship in the name of re-branding. In every film some one has to be the bad guy, unfortunately in this film it was us.

  20. 22 Tom K in Mpls
    September 21, 2009 at 22:46

    I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.
    Bill Cosby

    ’nuff said.

  21. 23 Suleiman
    September 22, 2009 at 00:43

    The Minister Dora Akunyili, and many others reacted in my opinion wrongly. Ok the film portrayed us in a bad light.
    Presently she is heading the rebranding Nigeria campaign. Why not use this to fuel the campaign, and tell our fellow countrymen how the world see many of us. We all are aware of Nigerian professionals where ever you go in this world, and we are also aware of Nigerian criminals. With the good always comes the bad.
    The minister should have used this movie to her advantage let the whole country see it. Instead of going on a rant and demanding an apology from Sony.

  22. 24 Joe Soap
    September 22, 2009 at 03:09

    Here we go again, unless you potray everyone in the best possible light they will cry out that they are being discriminated against and oppressed. Quite frankly I am fed up of this constant whining, of everyone complaining when their feelings get hurt. Its a movie and thats all – make believe.

  23. 25 T
    September 22, 2009 at 04:27

    I haven’t seen this film. And I’m not sure I want to.

    As to is Hollywood racist towards Africans, yes they are. If you had a big-budget film with an all African cast (and no white “superstar”), it would be labelled as a “black” film and have a limited release.

    The only thing that matters to the corporate owned studios is profit.

  24. 26 A.Z.Utilitarian
    September 22, 2009 at 06:06

    Kudos to Peter Jackson! District 9 was a lovely piece of SciFi regarding a “first contact” scenario. The technology lived up to A.C. Clarks comment that “technology sufficiently advanced from your own will appead to be magic.” That theme echoed throught the film in the human gang response to the prawn hardware and obliquely in the “technological” wests too, where they resorted to live testing to accelerate results. Both groups were solely interested in acquiring weapons technology/power for their own use. Racist?…Mostly HUMAN RACIST I would say…

  25. 27 Andre Roux
    September 22, 2009 at 07:01

    There is a saying “If the shoe fits, wear it”. If the Nigerians are so offended it is perhaps because a raw nerve of guilt was touched. In South Africa they are invariably involved in crime of all sorts. If I get a scam email, where does it come from? Nigeria. If a drug dealer gets arrested in South Africa, what are the chances it is a Nigerian? Above average. Perhaps Nigerians should look at their own guilt and why they are so negatively portrayed across the world, and not use their phony disgust to distract from it. Their actions of banning the film (which I do not think is racist) show how sensitive the issue of their image (which they themselves have destroyed by constant involvement in crime) has become.

  26. 28 Nelson Isibor
    September 22, 2009 at 12:38

    I have not yet seen the movie but if the assertions made by Nigeria’s information Minister are correct, then it will not be the first time that some thing like this is happening.
    A few weeks ago, SONY corporation released a commercial used a very insulting sentence to every well meaning Nigerian. They later tendered an apology and withdrew the commercial. The main problem is that people sometimes just swallow these things hook, line and sinker and form wrong opinions.

  27. 29 Sheetal Survase
    September 29, 2009 at 01:09

    Say we look at movies/ mainstream media from a ‘freedom of speech’ point of view then it makes no sense to ban it. Even if true to the racists claims the movie should be allowed to be viewed as it’s just another opinion, another representation of a real situation. However, I can’t agree with Nduka Tolefe, who earlier said that Nigeria should retort by making its own film to shut hollywood up. Slightly unrealistic. However, there ought to be means that will allow for people who feel offended and misrepresented to say so, through perhaps movie reviews in the newspapers/magazines (for local awareness) and blogs/ news forums (for the international community) etc..

    Admittedly this too is providing too little solace for those who genuinely feel insulted. Take the Passion of Christ as an example, was banned in many more countries and created a bigger uproar.. Fact of the matter is that no one likes to have their faith/ believes questioned or be insulted especially when there’s another side to the story so Sony must apologise – not for making the film but for the negative light it placed the Nigerian people in. However ensuring that it doesn’t entirely take away the credibility of their own claims.

    With all this being said, I am yet to watch the movie!! 😀

  28. 30 jess
    October 4, 2009 at 15:31

    To those that say that there must be some truth to the portrayal of Nigerians as vile, criminal, cannibalistic, subhuman creatures in order for the insult to “hit” and for people to complain, could the same not be true of white Americans who blanch at the word “race” when it is brought up? Could it be the reason some are so against the so-called “race card” being pulled is because they are actually racist, or at the very least experience feelings and attitudes of prejudice and acceptance of stereotypes?

  29. 31 Whisky
    December 13, 2009 at 15:35

    “Nigerian” is a nationality, not a race. If you’re going to ask a question that makes any sense it should be “Is District 9 xenophobic?”

    I think no: Nigerian gangsters were a part of the real district 9 that the film is based on. They do not represent all Nigerians, they just happen to be Nigerian. It’s a bit of background.

    It also makes sense of the gansters eating “prawns”: Nigerian gangs have been in the news fairly recently because of the trade in human body parts, particularly those of albinos. So eating the aliens to consume their power becomes a more sublte metaphor as they are not necessarily deemed sub-human by the gang members/ compared to the company’s approch of dissecting Wikus (who is certainly human) till there’s nothing left.

  30. 32 Michael
    March 3, 2010 at 09:05

    You would think with all the current crises facing their home country, the Nigerian diaspora could do more than just complain about a movie.

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