Sunday, September 20, 2009

When can you libell a nation? District 9

Nigeria's Information minister wants an apology. Sony has been told to the cut the offensive scenes and meanwhile the film continues to build its cash piles at the box office.

District 9, a seemingly innocuous sci-fi film by many standards, has run into a headlong confrontation between a nation, a multinational and by proxy the country where it was shot.

If you think the Nigerians are expressing undue concern, then you're failing to understand the image-discourse of cinema; how a generation of impressionables may subliminally or forthrightly agree all Nigeria's are wretched.

The norm is often to attack or situation rogue regimes as the baddies in Hollywood flicks, which is why in Lethal Weapon released just before South African turned to the light, the drug barron's were heavily accented Afrikaners. That didn't stop SA from complaining.

Otherwise you do what 24 and other films, fearing boycotts et al, do and make up a nation.

Information Minister Dora Akunyili obviously is no cinema-goer otherwise this should have been neutered when the film was still slated for release, so calling for cuts isn't going to happen.

The main Nigerian gangster's name is Obesandjo, not too far from Olusegun Obasanjo, the former Nigerian President

But can she sue Sony?

The standard answer is you can't sue a mass of people unless each can prove the hurtful actions apply to them, which is why no innocent football supporter caught between racist chants on a terrace drawing ire from a football commentator doesn't have a case.

Unless, that is the individual can prove the camera lingered on them. I was working at BBC Newsnight in the early 90s when the programme had to apologise profusely for a slip it made, libeling a group.

But could D9 set a precedent for damages? A class action organised by super lawyers in these meta data Net days, to test existing laws, can't be ruled out.

The loss of revenue from banning the film in Nigeria is small beer, more importantly is the diplomatic thunk in relations between Nigeria and South Africa.

Early success of the film suggests a sequel will follow. The film makers might want to then put things right. Meanwhile here's a critic of D9 sent to me by a South African television commissioner. Link coming soon