[This is something I wrote over a year ago. I just wanted to finally throw it out there]
I am white. Where I live, people with another skin colour are a rarity. There are ethnic minorities (which I am not a member of) but those are not really defined by their skin colour. And yet I had to think of that very topic recently. Make of that what you will. I am just adding this as a disclaimer of sorts before I write an entry about skin colour. It seems like the prudent thing to do.
I watched “District 9” the other day. Yes, yes, I know. I am quite some time behind the Bell curve. And yet, that movie made me think about race relations. Now that is not unusual for a movie that tries to use Apartheid as a backdrop for an aliens-landing-on-earth-story. But it made me think about depictions of race in movies.
In a broad sense, movies try to know their audience, because this very audience is who they cater to. It has long since been a truthism of sorts in Hollywood and other movie industries who shoot for large markets, that the main character has to be someone the audience can identify with. And the traditional thought process sees that as someone who is the same kind of person as the intended audience. It is for that reason that the movie “The Great Escape” decided to add an American character played by Steve McQueen into a real-life story that only had to do with British and Australians, Andy why, in movies, the Yanks captured the Enigma machine. In a way, it is also the main reason behind what TVTropes.org calls “but not too black”. The idea behind that is that an audience that is composed of largely white people will be unable to identify with the struggles of black people. Because of that, black people in mainstream blockbusters are usually brown instead of black as far as actual complexion is concerned and generally behave more than stereotypically white people instead of generally black people (leaving out the problems of stereotypes altogether).
That brings me to “District 9”. In that movie, space aliens land in South Africa and are kept separate from the human population. It is a parable on Apartheid more obviously than I care to go into. I’m pretty sure that people were hit over the head with that subtext. It ceased to be subtext and became plain old text at some point.
As for catering to its audience, the movie’s protagonists are Wikus van de Merwe and one of the aliens. So far, so good. But let’s have a look at the bad guys. They are pseudo-military who hunt down Wikus and his alien associate. And they look and feel exactly like the people who, in real life, made life a living hell for black people during the actual Apartheid-regime. Buff, muscular white guys with shaved heads who view the aliens as sort of animals or something. Definitely sub-human, though.
The bad guys being racist white guys leaves me with one of two conclusions to make:
One: Normal, everyday white people have no problem identifying with the bad guys of a given story. That is a pretty bleak outlook on a group of humans but may be a possibility, even though I think it is the more unlikely of explanations.
Two: It is easier for your average white person to identify with a space alien than with an actual dark-skinned human being. Which is sad to contemplate in a whole other way. People identifying with evil racist white guys are probably racists anyway. Screw them! But the fact that, even for an average, non-racist white guy, it is easier to identify with a completely alien organism from outer space than with another human being who has a slightly different complexion does not exactly throw a good light on the human race, too, now does it?