Hotel Rwanda (10/10)

by Tony Medley

In 1994, in a little over three months, Rwanda’s Hutus slaughtered over one million of Rwanda’s Tutsis and the world yawned. Bill Clinton and Madeleine Albright spent billions and moved heaven and earth to send planes and bombs to Kosovo when some Muslims were being killed, but, then, they were white, European, and not Christian. As Colonel George (Nick Nolte), a composite of Canadian officers who led the U.N. Peacekeeping mission, tells Paul, the Tutsis, a majority of whom were Christian, were all “black and African. Nobody cares about you.” This denunciation includes Bill and Madeleine who didn’t care and did nothing.

Not only did they not, but neither did The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, NBC News, CBS News, ABC News, CNN, or any other major American media. While they headline photos of terrorist prisoners being mocked at Abu Graib day after day after day, there was barely a whisper in the major American media of one million black Africans being massacred by other black Africans. Of course TV “news” is a misnomer because TV news only shows news of which it has pictures. No picture; no news. To put this unconcern into perspective, the December tsunami killed 150,000 and the world responded instantly. Pictures were shown all over the world every day. U.S. warships were immediately diverted to help the victims. In Rwanda, one millions Tutsis were brutally massacred in three weeks but nobody did anything. Shame on all of them for their political bias and insensitivity to the suffering of black Africans.

“Hotel Rwanda” is a riveting adventure film, the true story of one man, Paul Rusesabagina (Don Cheadle), who was the assistant manager of the Hotel Mille Collines in Kigali, Rwanda. Paul is a consummate diplomat who finds himself smack dab in the middle of the fastest genocide in history. Almost before he knows it he’s responsible for what turned out to be 1,268 Tutsis in the middle of Hutu territory.

One of the main characters in the film is the Hutu radio station, RTML, who constantly bombarded Rwanda with exhortations to “kill all the cockroaches (Tutsis).” It’s chilling to watch Paul venture outside the hotel with Hutus all around listening to RTML. To make matters worse, one of Paul’s employees, Gregoire (Tony Kgoroge), is an embittered Hutu who wants the worst for Paul and his wards.

While it’s an involving adventure story, it is also a touching love story between Paul and his wife, Tatiana (Sophie Okonedo). While Paul is mainly concerned with saving Tatiana and his children, she tells him he must also do his best for everyone else who have found refuge with him.

As the movie starts, Paul is shown currying favor with Hutu Generals, hoping that they will feel indebted to him. How this turns out is a striking commentary on human nature.

The only presence of foreign troops is the U.N., headed by Colonel George. While he has a good relationship with Paul and wants to help, his hands are tied by unsympathetic U.N. bureaucrats. In fact, while hundreds of thousands were being massacred the cowardly U.N. actually reduced its peacekeeping force from 2,500 to 270.

The media are represented through cameraman Jack Daglish (Joaquin Phoenix), who get some terrific pictures of what’s going on, but who are suddenly withdrawn without explanation and without having any international impact. The film shows that Daglish and his cohorts were terribly concerned about what they were seeing, but couldn’t get their bosses to do anything.

This is many times more exciting than any James Bond film, with the advantage that it’s mostly true. Expertly written (with Keir Pearson) and directed by producer Terry George, “Hotel Rwanda” keeps you on the edge of your seat as Paul battles huge odds by walking a tightrope trying to keep his family and his wards from the massacre going on all around. One of the best movies of this year or any year.

December 30, 2004

The End