‘We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families’
by Steven Stehle
Imagine you are trapped in a hotel for weeks with no water or electricity along with everyone you know and care about, the entire country is overrun by madmen with machetes who want to kill people like you, and there is no coalition, willing or otherwise, coming to save you. There is no one who you can turn to for help.
Hotel Rwanda is the true story of Paul Rusesabagina, a Hutu hotel manager in Kigali, Rwanda, who, the midst of one of the most brutally efficient genocides in the history of the world saved the lives of 1268 people.
Rusesabagina is played by Don Cheadle (Traffic, Ocean’s 12) in one of the greatest performances in his already stellar career. As Rusesabagina, Cheadle conveys eloquently the struggle of a man fighting his own conscience.
Rusesabagina is a Hutu, his wife is a Tutsi—the two rival ethnic groups of Rwanda. At the beginning of the conflict, Rusesabagina strives only to protect his family from the violence. But as the killings escalate, he finds that he cannot insulate himself from the horror of the genocide and more and more people find shelter with him and the Hotel Mille Colines.
His co-star Sophie Okonedo (Dirty Pretty Things) is completely at the top of her game and occasionally manages to upstage Cheadle in her role as Rusesabagina’s wife Tatiana.
Nick Nolte and Joaquin Phoenix have some of the film’s best lines, and both turn in amazing performances which rival those of their leads. In a memorable scene with Cheadle, Nolte has to break the news that the UN cannot protect the people at the Hotel Mille Collines. His character, however, is so upset with this failure, which he sees as his own failure, that he tries to taunt Cheadle into a fight.
It’s hard to know how recommend a movie that is this good and at the same time so disturbing that many people may not be able to sit through the whole film. To say that this is an impactful and important film is an understatement. However, whether this film inspires you to take action or to (as Joaquin Phoenix’s character memorably says) “say, ‘That’s horrible,’ and go back to eating [your] dinner,” this film will not leave you for a long time.
On the film’s website there are plenty of links and materials for those who do decide help the victims of this genocide and others. While I was researching the site I also found this quote from the director:
“Ten years on, politicians from around the world have made the pilgrimage to Rwanda to ask for forgiveness from the survivors, and once more the same politicians promise `never again,'” says director Terry George. “But it’s happening yet again in Sudan, or the Congo, or some Godforsaken place where life is worth less than dirt. Places where men and women like Paul and Tatiana shame us all by their decency and bravery.”
A Belgian colony until the early 1960’s, Rwanda-Burundi had been divided into two ethnic groups, the Tutsi and the Hutu. The Tutsis were favored by the Belgians due to their more European features. They were educated and afforded privileges which the Hutus were denied.
When the colony was finally abandoned the Hutus seized power and a majority of the Tutsis fled the newly separated Rwanda. Violence between the two groups continued into the 1990’s when, in the spring of 1994, the Hutus begin a 100 day massacre against the Tutsis that left approximately 800,000 Tutsis and more than a few Hutu moderates dead.
The majority of the killings were done by machete.