Like Alive in Joburg, the short film on which the feature film is based, the setting of District 9 is inspired by historical events that took place in South Africa during the apartheid era, with the film's title particularly alluding to District Six.
District Six, an inner-city residential area in Cape Town, was declared a "whites only" area by the government in 1966, with 60,000 people forcibly removed and relocated to Cape Flats, 25 km (15 mi) away. The film also refers to contemporary evictions and forced removals to new suburban ghettos in post-apartheid South Africa as well as the resistance of its residents.
This includes the high profile attempted forced removal of the Joe Slovo informal settlement in Cape Town to temporary relocation areas in Delft, plus the attempted evictions of Abahlali baseMjondolo and evictions in the shack settlement, Chiawelo, where the film was actually shot.
Blikkiesdorp, a temporary relocation area in Cape Town, has also been compared with the District 9 camp earning a front page spread in The Daily Voice. The film makes a statement about inhumanity in the irony of Wikus becoming more humane as he becomes less human.
Throughout the movie, he becomes more aware of the aliens' plight, eventually helping them escape the planet, even turning on his own species to do so. Chris Mikesell from the Hawaii newspaper, Ka Leo, notes that inhumanity is a deep-rooted theme throughout.
He writes: "Substitute 'black,' 'Asian,' 'Mexican,' 'illegal,' 'Jew,' or any number of different labels for the word 'prawn' in this film and you will hear the hidden truth behind the dialogue". Alien eggs are destroyed before hatching and described as popcorn.
He described that District 9 shows the corruption of which humans are capable. MNU, the corporation in charge of protecting the aliens, is actually taking away captured aliens and using them as experiments in order to be able to use their weapons.
Themes of racism and xenophobia are put forward by the movie in the form of speciesism applied to the aliens. The use of the word "prawn" to describe the aliens is a reference to the Parktown prawn, a king cricket species considered a pest in South Africa.
Copley has said that the theme is not intended to be the main focus of the work, but rather that it can work at a subconscious level even if it is not noticed. Duane Dudek from the Journal Sentinel wrote that "The result is an action film about xenophobia, in which all races of humans are united in their dislike and mistrust of an insect-like species".
An underlying theme in District 9 is state reliance on multinational corporations as a government funded enforcement arm. As MNU represents the type of corporation which partners with governments, the negative portrayal of MNU in the film can be seen as a statement about the dangers of outsourcing militaries and bureaucracies to private contractors.
Filming / Behind the Scenes
The film was shot on location in Chiawelo, Soweto during a time of violent unrest in Alexandra, Gauteng and other South African townships involving clashes between native South Africans and Africans born in other countries. The location that portrays District 9 in itself was in fact a real impoverished neighborhood from which people were being forcibly relocated to government-subsidised housing.
Filming for District 9 took place during the winter in Johannesburg, South Africa. According to director Neill Blomkamp, during the winter season, Johannesburg "actually looks like Chernobyl", a "nuclear apocalyptic wasteland". Blomkamp wanted to capture the deserted, bleak atmosphere and environment, so he and the crew had to film during the months of June through July.
The film took a total of 60 days of shooting. Filming in December raised another issue in that there was much more rain. Due to the rain, there was a lot of greenery to work with, which Blomkamp did not want. In fact, Blomkamp had to cut some of the vegetation in the scenery to portray the setting as desolate and dark.
The film features many weapons and vehicles produced by the South African arms-industry, including the R5 and Vektor CR-21 assault rifles, Denel NTW-20 20mm sniper rifle, BXP submachinegun, Casspir armored personnel carrier, Ratel infantry fighting vehicle, Rooikat tank, Atlas Oryx helicopter and militarized Toyota Hilux.
Blomkamp said no single film influenced District 9, but cited the 1980s "hardcore sci-fi/action" films such as Alien, Aliens, The Terminator, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Predator and RoboCop as subconscious influences. The director said, "I don't know whether the film has that feeling or not for the audience, but I wanted it to have that harsh 1980s kind of vibe — I didn't want it to feel glossy and slick."
Because of the amount of hand-held shooting required for the film, the producers and crew decided to shoot using the digital Red One camera. Cinematographer Trent Opaloch used nine digital Red Ones owned by Peter Jackson for primary filming.
According to HD Magazine, District 9 was shot on RED One cameras using build 15, Cooke S4 primes and Angenieux zooms. The documentary style and CCTV cam footage was shot on the Sony EX1/EX3 XDCAM-HD. Additionally, the post-production team was warned that the most RED footage they could handle a day was about an hour and a half. When that got to five hours a day reinforcements were called in and 120 Terabytes of data was filled.