South African critics were unanimous in their praise for District 9 but the real test of the movie came on Friday 28th of August when the public flooded to see the film. Andrew Worsdale spent the day canvassing opinions from viewers.

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District 9
On Friday the 28th of August, I went to the movies five times. Not to see anything, but to hang out after the screenings of District 9 at The Zone in Johannesburg�s Rosebank to test the public�s reaction to the movie. Expectations were high and the local press had pumped up the film in the days before its release.

I�m no market researcher and had no forms with scores for punters to fill out, it was just me and my notepad and my trusty Bic pen running after audience members as they came out the moviehouse. Generally I asked three hurried questions � �Did you like the film?� �What was it like for you to see Joburg as the setting for a science-fiction movie?� and sometimes �Do you think the film is racist?� I didn�t ask anyone his or her names or occupations � it was basically an off-the-cuff raid on their opinions fresh as they left the alternate reality of District 9 � so I won�t editorialise much in between.

The Zone had five screenings on the film�s opening day at 9.30, 12, 2.30, 5.15 and 7.45pm � obviously the demographics of the audience changed during the day but you�ll work that out from the comments.

Just before nine that morning, there were a clutchful of geeks eagerly waiting for the box-office to open. Wearing their hoodies and sneakers, looking strangely disappointed that in fact there wasn�t a massive queue. One youngster in particular was in a major state, as his friends hadn�t arrived to share the experience. There was no way he was going in alone!

Two hours later I came back and cornered a group of five youngsters leaving the complex. They must have been 12-13 years old and District 9 has a 16-age restriction for Language and Violence (interestingly not for prejudice). I approached them and initially they denied seeing the sci-fi flick insisting they�d paid to see the Jack Black comedy Year One, but eventually the kids relented � yes they�d cheated and gone to see the age restricted movie instead!

Beaming with excitement, they loved the film, �It was so cool, so different� and then with a laugh the leader pitched in with: �Amazing! But I reckon that the rest of the world will probably think we ride aliens to school!�

Sci-fi geeks made up most of the morning shows, here�s what they thought:

�Awesome, so cool to have a movie where the main guy has this heavy South African accent, but I must say I thought the donkeys in the road were a bit excessive.�

�Racist? I don�t think it�s any more racist than a movie like Blood Diamond, which had corrupt, stereotyped bloodthirsty African characters.�

�I loved all that Jhb Media stuff. It�s a world-class movie and it was really cool to see the Vodacom Tower and the old Carlton hotel as the headquarters of MNU in the movie. But yeah it was a class act for a local flick � a first.�

Then, an elderly lady who was pushing her husband in a wheelchair � a complete surprise to me, in terms of the demographic. He was the enthusiastic one: �I was really surprised, it was brilliant, a very different kind of film and one that made me proud to be South African and from Johannesburg.�

The noon show came out just after 2pm; the theatre was fuller consisting mainly of teens or office workers who�d taken Friday afternoon off. This time most viewers had smiles on their faces, laughing and giggling with each other as they compared notes on the movie.

�Usually South African movies are so political and so filled with stereotypes. They�re like a schlep to sit through, like you�re going to school or a lecture. This was totally different, it was a jorl (fun), a totally kiff (cool) movie my bru (friend).�

�I thought it was a bit gross at times, but (laughing) it was engrossing! Grossly engrossing!�

�Brilliant! It was so great like when the gangsters said eksě, and they didn�t translate anything, it was so real and yet it was weird because it was science-fiction and yet it was so Joburg. It�s completely strange coming out in the daylight now!�

�The Sangomas might feel undermined and perhaps there�s a racist element to it. But then again it�s like a comic book so I suppose it�s fine.�

�I enjoy science-fiction but here the scenario seemed so real. If aliens did arrive and they didn�t blow us away like in Hollywood movies I�m sure they�d be segregated.�

�It�s an awesome satire on xenophobia and amazing for a South African film. It works with general stereotypes to make a point about racism. In fact when it�s over you end up being more scared of human beings than aliens.�

�The only time I ever cried as much was in the first Transformers!� (an animation student at City Varsity!)

�I felt included as a South African in a cool action movie. It made me really proud. I mean when you watch a Russian movie or a foreign movie it�s like strange and you need sub-titles so I don�t know what the Americans are going to think but it�s so cool to have our own accents and our own peculiarities up there in this like mega-mega-movie.�

�I love the idea of millions of people all over the world cheering for someone called Van der Merwe. In fact it�s probably the best Van Der Merwe joke ever, except that it�s really quite moving by the end.�

As the day continued the audience matured and so criticisms started coming in � although most people I spoke to loved the experience, there was not universal praise�the late afternoon and evening audience seemed more prickly to issues in the film.

A sweet-looking, definitely English South African woman looked like she had a migraine when I approached. �It was definitely not my cup of tea. So grimy and dirty. I feel like I need to get home and take a bath. I think it�s a bad advert for Joburg with all the litter and the aliens and the violence.� (don�t worry, my dear, there�s no mothership above our skies yet!)

�They must have spent a fortune on special effects and they look great. I mean some of those American thingies aren�t half as good.�

�I hated it!!! It was racist, stereotypical cr*p. a complete negation of black Africa. Exactly what a racist white person would make. None of the local critics picked up on the film�s racism, they all thought it was commenting on xenophobia and stuff but I think it�s actually a racist piece of sh*t.� (this woman was completely incensed, a case of �movie-rage� I suppose!)

�Brilliant. The movie boldly takes on the science-fiction genre and made it local.�

�All the black people were caricatures. I mean the Nigerian spoke Sesotho. It�s typical to see this kind of thing coming from an unconscious white person. Who does this Blomkamp guy think he is? You can�t just say I�m making some sci-fi comic movie and have no respect for the actual politics and social realities of our country and of our city.�

�It all felt not so far from home with the hijackings, forced removals, violence, xenophobia, red ants, sort of like watching this bizarre version of the evening news. Life here in Joburg is sometimes extreme and strange, that�s why I love it � but thank heavens it�s not as strange as in the movie!�

�Funnily enough I think as South Africans watching this film one gets an insight into young Americans and their tastes, after all wasn�t it made for them? They�re the ones who make a movie like this a hit or not.�

�The main guy acts in his own self-interest so it�s not like he makes a major turn, like he identifies with the other. He begins a racist and stays a racist, the only reason he helps the aliens is to save his own skin. So yeah I had a major problem with the politics of the film.�

�It�s a full-on classic man. I mean hectic stuff. I felt completely goofed (stoned) throughout the whole thing and I swear I haven�t had a thing!�

�It couldn�t have ended sooner for me, the set-up was interesting and then it just became average and messy and very noisy!�

�The best thing about this movie is that it�s going to get all different types of people arguing and debating about things like racism and government control and personal responsibility and blame, which is great�surely that�s what movies or art should do � provoke debate. What�s cool here is that it�s also a helluva lot of fun to watch if you�re a sci-fi geek like me!�

�A great science-fiction film about man�s inhumanity to man. It�s a perfect picture of xenophobia in our culture and as a movie it rocked!�

�A very unsubtle movie about apartheid and it just seemed and became more and more routine.�

�I thought it was like a student film. There was a great premise but then it all became very two-dimensional with so many plot holes.�

�The whole love story thing was really bad and soppy. If it wasn�t for the little kiddie alien I would�ve felt like it was just like any other �shoot-em-up� movie.�

�It was like Star Trek as an apartheid movie. So I guess great that there was a message but we could still, you know, munch our popcorn and have fun which was cool because it�s local.�

And possibly the best one, from a late straggler, he�d stayed on till the very last end credit and there�s no accounting for what he might have imbibed before the movie:

�That was just so completely mal. Hectic man. Insane. I just hosed myself. If they had another show right now I�d go straight back in again.�

I popped into the cinema from time to time throughout the day and there were laughs of recognition, moments of suspense-held silence, awe and gasps of horror at some of the gruesome bits and at the two evening shows applause at the end of the movie.

Generally speaking most of the viewers loved the film coming out both dazed and confused and beaming with pride, sure there were those critical of the film�s politics but all in all Joburgers seemed to be �loving the alien�.