Monday, November 16, 2009

Earth man's burden

*Warning: This post may contain spoilers for District 9!*

I remember the days when movie aliens were always evil, and the hero's job was to save the planet by defeating the alien invaders. Things are a little different these days. The summer movie District 9 and the upcoming Avatar (the James Cameron movie, not the other one) show aliens in a slightly more sympathetic, albeit still problematic, light.

It's easy to see that the conflict between these aliens and humans resembles the racial conflicts. The South Africa portrayed in District 9 has "Humans Only" signs and aliens living in squalid ghettos. In Avatar, humans who are prospecting for a rare ore land on a moon named Pandora that is inhabited with "savage" natives. If these scenarios don't remind you of apartheid and the arrival of the European settlers in the Americas, you need to go back and read your history books.

Now, it's nice to see the aliens portrayed as sympathetic, sentient beings, and it's nice to see the aliens win (although we're still waiting for their real-life counterparts to "win"), but why does it always take an Earthling to lead them to success? A white, male Earthling at that. A white, male Earthling that somehow transforms into one of the aliens.

If we were to relate this back to real-life scenarios, these movies are sending the message that minority communities fighting for their rights need to be led by a white, male "savior". And that couldn't be further from the truth. Gandhi, MLK Jr., Aung San Suu Kyi, Nelson Mandela, Cori Aquino, William Kamkwamba - it takes a cultural insider to lead people and make a change. A random white American or European would not have been able to do so.

Yes, I understand that this is Hollywood, and these movies are fictional and not direct allegories. But can we please stop with the white savior trope? It's overdone, it detracts from credibility, and worst of all, it sends the false message that POCs need "saving" by whites.


  1. Nice title for your blog post >.<

    *sighs at Hollywood* /bonk

  2. It's a play on "White Man's Burden" ( But I'm sure you already knew that.

  3. Yay links in my comments that don't work.