Orientalism is broadly defined as stereotyping other people or cultures in a way that serves specific goals or the construction of power, especially in the context of western views of Asia and the Middle East. The philosophy of orientalism is largely present in daily life, and of course, many of the prevalent examples of orientalism come from media, such as art, literature, and television.
This week, I watched a movie called District 9. This movie is essentially about the establishment and treatment of a slum populated by bug-like aliens that recently arrived on earth. The movie comments on oppression and racism using this extreme scenario. However, even beyond the stereotyping of the aliens, deeper-rooted orientalism in society is shown. This comes from the depiction of Nigerians, who populate the slums as well. The Nigerians are shown as violent, mystical, and savage, playing on many stereotypes of Africa and Nigeria in Western culture.
In a way, Nigerians are depicted as the true “other” in the movie, even more than the Aliens. This is because some of the aliens were shown to possess human characteristics such as love and intelligence, because one of the main characters, Christopher, is an alien who fixed a spaceship so he and his son could go save their people. He expresses familial commitment, intelligence, and devotion to his moral beliefs and friends. Alongside a white protagonist, Christopher battles the larger society that seeks to marginalize the aliens.
On the other hand, the Nigerian gang does not add to the commentary on oppression, and more serves a comedic role and creates more interesting battle scenes. For example, the gang built their empire off illegally selling food to aliens in exchange for alien weaponry they cannot use but believe they can use, and they attack the protagonist because they want to eat his arm for their mystical beliefs. They are not the main villains of the movie, nor do they show complex, admirable characteristics. They are simply a savage part of the slum, clearly enforcing ingrained stereotypes and orientalist viewpoints.