Vol. 5 Num 369 Sat. June 11, 2005  

Hotel Rwanda: a harsh dose of reality

For those who have not yet seen the movie Hotel Rwanda, it's a movie based on the genocide that transpired in Rwanda in 1994. About a million people were killed in the course of just 100 days, all in the name of ethnic cleansing. The victims were mostly members of the minority group, Tutsis.

To understand the movie scrupulously, one has to keep the background of the whole massacre in mind. The population of the small country Rwanda comprises two ethnic groups Hutus and Tutsis. There had always been a visible economic difference between the two groups. The Tutsis were often in a position of economic dominance to the Hutus. However, it would be unfair to generalise that all Tutsis were well-to-do and all Hutus were dirt-poor. According to many, the only difference between the two communities was economic rather than ethnic.

After World War I, the Belgians colonised Rwanda. A 1934 Belgian census capriciously classified anyone owning more than 10 cows as a Tutsi. Roman Catholic schools educated Tutsis and largely ignored Hutus. The Belgians did nothing to minimise the differences between the two groups; they even forced Hutus and Tutsis to carry ethnic identity cards. Raging Hutus watched as the Tutsis were allowed to hold positions of power during the Belgian rule. But after the Second World War, as decolonisation began to sweep Africa, the Belgians did an abrupt about-face.

As the European powers were leaving, all hell broke loose. Following the independence in 1962, in Rwanda, the Hutu majority lashed out at the minority Tutsis -- killing thousands and forcing hundreds of thousands to flee to neighboring Uganda. The Rwandan Tutsis formed the Rwandan Patriotic Front and began attacks on the Hutu-led government. After years of bloody combats, the Rwandan government launched a genocidal mission against Tutsis and this is where the movie starts.

Paul Rusesabagina, the then-manager of the five-star Hotel Milles Collines, is caught in the middle of a barbarous bloodbath when the Hutus start slaughtering every Tutsi visible. The UN, swamped in red-tape, turned impotent and all the western superpowers treated Rwanda like a pariah. Paul, a Hutu whose wife is a Tutsi, is reluctant to help out the Tutsis initially but this westernised lackey to the Europeans gradually turns into an unlikely hero. He saves hundreds of Tutsi refugees by letting them camp out at the hotel. He succeeds in keeping the Hutu soldiers away by bribing them but as his stock of booze run dry, he is placed in dire circumstances. He is forced to take extreme measures to save not only his family but the Tutsi refugees as well.

Certain lines from the movie will make even the ice-hearted ones misty-eyed. A Red Cross worker describes how she was forced to watch some Tutsi children being slaughtered and one little girl pleaded "Please don't kill me, I promise I'll never be a Tutsi again" or Colonel Oliver, the commanding officer of the UN Peacekeeping Mission telling Paul, "Don't you get it? They (Europeans and Americans) don't care about you people. You're not even niggers, you're Africans!"

Don Cheadle, as Paul Rusesabagina, is the strongest factor of the movie. His vulnerable yet 'never lose your cool' disposition gives the character just what it needs. Hence, it's no wonder this talented actor was nominated in the best lead actor category in the 77th Academy Awards. Sophie Okonedo, who was nominated in the best supporting actress category as Paul's wife Tatiana, is humane and very believable. Nick Nolte, playing Colonel Oliver, deserves praise.

As the movie is pretty graphic and contains some intense violent scenes, it might not be suitable for children. But for any mature, socially and politically conscious movie lover, Hotel Rwanda is a must see.

A scene from the movie