Although Neil Blomkamp’s movies were relatively successful with regard to their box offices, the critics’ attention was also drawn to the depiction of Africans and Bantu Immigrants. The director himself pointed out that he did not aim to depict the population of South Africa in derogatory terms, but it was noticed by the viewers that Nigerians are depicted there as criminals, cannibals, and prostitutes (Karimi 2009).
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The visual representation of Africans in these movies is a good example of how blockbusters and Hollywood films tend to depict Africans in a derogatory and dehumanizing way, thus, providing support for a stereotyping perception of Africans. Such movies also directly influence the imbalance of power between the white and black populations, contributing to institutionalized racism and racist representations of black populations in contemporary media.
Although Elysium mostly focuses on the “rich-poor” dualism and the “Savior” figure of Max Da Costa (played by Matt Damon), specific attention should be paid to the representation of race in the movie. The polluted wasteland presented as the Earth in the year 2154 is mostly inhabited by people of color apparently of Hispanic descent, who are depicted as poor, lacking ambition, and almost savage-like (as are Africans in District 9).
Their inability to work as a community, constant thefts, violence, and poverty seem to indicate that representatives of the lower class (and non-white races) are unable to build a civilized society. The Earth populated by people of color is drowning in violence and crime, while education programs fail or are perceived as unnecessary (Henry 2014). The depiction of the main villain in the movie, the white South African named Kruger, also translates a racist representation of the Rainbow Nation, as the white villain and his accomplices are presented as highly violent, if not bloodthirsty, characters, who however fly in a helicopter with the modern South African flag, a symbol of diversity.
This inconsistency in representation, which sometimes becomes obviously stereotyping and derogatory, is what characterizes Blomkamp’s approach (intentional or not) to African characters in his movies. Despite being a South African himself, Blomkamp is apparently unable to represent South Africa as diverse and rich with different characters. The concept of power and its imbalance often seen in Blomkamp’s movies seems to be criticized by the director, but he falls into his own trap, representing the only savior of the Earth population as a white male, as if in contrast to colored populations who live on Earth.
Being a White South African, Blomkamp depicts the country from his own perspective, according to which blacks are not as powerful as whites. While it is true that Elysium criticizes the capitalist society by depicting the white rich class literally looking down at lower classes and exploiting them, it still fails to provide positive representations of people of color, instead using an oversimplified villain as a representative of the whole South Africa (Mirrlees and Pedersen 2016). Thus, Blomkamp’s visions of “the self” and “others” are clearly emphasized in his movies.
A similar, although possibly even more disturbing representation is seen in District 9, where South Africa is depicted as a terrain drowning in violence, crime, and fear. The arrival of aliens, their life in camps, and the inability to understand others might be perceived as a representation of Africans immigrating to South Africa from other parts of the continent, but such an image of people as extraterrestrial humanoid animals is derogatory if not humiliating.
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The movie uses the apartheid as a metaphor for aliens’ isolation. At the same time, South Africans are presented as populations that do not only eat alien meat but also engage in interspecies sex. The majority of Africans in the movie are gang members, criminals, or prostitutes. Smith (2009) also points out that Johannesburg depicted in the movie and the real-life city are different, as South Africa provides good locations for filming and world-class studios and technical crews. One might think that Johannesburg is depicted in such a way because it reflects the terrors of apartheid, but the exact depiction of this city is found in Chappie.
The depiction of Chappie can be at first perceived as non-derogatory as Chappie is a robot, an automaton that is conscious. Chappie, the character, is used by Blomkamp to explore the nature of consciousness and concepts of violence and love. Chappie is presented as the only self-critical and skeptical character throughout the movie, which adds deepness to him (Sculos 2015). However, Rejeki (2017) points out that Chappie is a representation of Black Consciousness, the anti-Apartheid movement in South Africa.
Some characters in the movie seem to use Chappie for their needs, whereas his independence remains a question. Nevertheless, in Chappie, Blomkamp does not represent many people of color, and his South Africa seems to be the world of white people, which accentuates the director’s focus on white supremacy in his movies.
Chappie might not exploit racist stereotypes as often as Elysium and District 9 do. However, the representation of Africans there does not differ from the previously described movies. Blomkamp’s movies tend to depict South Africa in a simplistic and humiliating way, contributing to the chauvinist view of Africans in Hollywood movies.
The problem is that, in these movies, the concepts of “the self” and “others” are confounded, and from Blomkamp’s perspective as a White South African, depicted Africans are “others” and “aliens” in their own lands, when whites are owners of these lands and embodiments of the “self”-concept. Such manipulation of terms is typical of the modern global society where racial prejudice and discrimination are hidden, and it is almost impossible to find bias-free representations of Africans.
Henry, Christopher G. 2014. “A Cultural Critique of Contemporary Science Fiction Film.” Honors thesis, Department of Communication Studies, Texas State University, San Marcos.
Karimi, Faith. 2009. “District 9′ Depiction Angers Some Nigerians.” Web.
Mirrlees, Tanner, and Isabel Pedersen. 2016. “Elysium as a Critical Dystopia.” International Journal of Media & Cultural Politics 12(3): 305-322.
Rejeki, Nurmala. 2017. “The Representation of Black Consciousness as Seen in Chappie’s Movie.” Bachelor thesis, English Department, Sunan Kalijaga State Islamic University, Yogyakarta.
Sculos, Bryant W. 2015. “Automatons, Robots, and Capitalism in a Very Wrong Twenty-First Century: A Review Essay on Neill Blomkamp’s Chappie.” Class, Race and Corporate Power 3(1):1-7.
Smith, David. 2009. “District 9: South Africa and Apartheid Come to the Movies.” Web.