Front Page















'Hotel Rwanda'
January 10, 2005

By James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.
contributor to

In addition to Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ," another film that looks as if it is being sidelined by many of the critics and pre-Oscar award givers is "Hotel Rwanda."

"Hotel Rwanda" is a film that creates quite a bit of discomfort while viewing precisely because it shows the shameful and massive foreign-relations failure of Europe, the United Nations and the Clinton administration.

The movie tells the story of some horrific events that occurred in the not so distant past; the middle of the last decade to be exact. As the aforementioned parties sat idly by, almost 1 million innocent human beings were slaughtered, mostly hacked to death with machetes. It happened in the span of 100 days, which made it the most rapid genocide in all of history.

Unbelievably, in spite of the widespread atrocities and wanton destruction of human life based upon contrived racial distinctions, the film shows that, when confronted with the crisis, a U.S. State Department official is heard during a radio broadcast arguing against using the term "genocide."

The film relays the true story of a remarkable individual named Paul Rusesabagina. With his bold and savvy, yet genteel approach, Rusesabagina manages to keep over 1,200 men, women and children alive. The real life hero served as consultant on the film.

Portrayed masterfully by Don Cheadle, the main character works as manager of the Hotel des Mille Collines in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda. He dresses impeccably in business attire and is a master of diplomacy, adept at using the local custom of bestowing gifts and favors in order to keep the hotel running efficiently and successfully.

These same skills are the primary manner in which he ultimately saves the lives of family, friends and strangers who are marked for death.

Joaquin Phoenix plays a journalist who finds out that during Belgian colonization the Hutus and Tutsis were arbitrarily created as two classes. The Belgians had designated the Hutus as inferior and, over the years, resentment had fueled the friction between the two groups.

The dehumanization of the Tutsi minority comes in the form of the label "cockroaches." The repeated epithet paves the way for an eventual march toward the eradication of a whole people.

We, of course, have witnessed heinousness of this sort before - in Nazi Germany, in Bosnia, in the Sudan. And we have heard language colored with the same filth from those who have been using high-tech machetes to annihilate our future generations.

Even as the Hutu massacre of the Tutsis begins, initiated with the radio signal "Cut down the tall trees," the optimistic hotel manager believes with all his heart that the West will intervene. He reassures his Tutsi wife that all will be well.

He is proven wrong in the most painful way possible. Nick Nolte's character, a disillusioned United Nations peacekeeper, blames racism for the Western apathy in the face of the ongoing mayhem.

As reality begins to crumble around him, Rusesabagina stays grounded in moral decency and virtue.

A few more items of note. The hauntingly beautiful score is filled with authentic regional music that all will appreciate. And because the film is not overly explicit in its depiction of violence, the audience is able to absorb the gravity of events without being inordinately repelled by the visuals.

This approach, hopefully, will allow people to translate circumstances in terms of the present and this time intervene where so desperately needed.

Like its gallant lead character, "Hotel Rwanda" uplifts and inspires. My prayer is that the film is seen, appreciated and duly recognized.

Reproduced with the permission of . All rights reserved

Copyright © 2005
James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.

All Rights Reserved