“Hotel Rwanda” (2004) is a film based on the true story of Paul Rusesabagina, who ran a fancy hotel in the middle of the Rwandan genocide that killed 800,000 Tutsis. With courage, brains, luck and the hotel he saved 1268 lives. A sort of Rwandan “Schindler’s List” (1993).
Don Cheadle plays Rusesabagina, Sophie Okonedo his wife, who was Tutsi unlike him, and Nick Nolte plays a United Nations general. It was directed by Terry George, who comes from a place not unlike Rwanda: Northern Ireland.
At the Oscars, Cheadle was nominated for Best Actor and Okonedo for Best Supporting Actress. Jamie Foxx in “Ray” beat out Cheadle, which is reasonable, but Okonedo lost to Cate Blanchett in the forgettable film “The Aviator”.
It is rated PG-13, meaning that it is something 13-year-olds can watch. So most of the violence and killing and blood takes place offstage. Dead bodies are shown at a distance or in the darkness.
You do not notice how PG-13 it is because it is told from the point of view of a hotel manager – and what you do see is shocking enough, like dead bodies laying in front of nice, middle-class homes. But when you compare it to the two other famous genocide films, “Schindler’s List” and “The Killing Fields” (1984), you do see how the PG-13 rating cost the film much of its shock value.
But with a man trying to save more than 1200 lives in the middle of a genocide, it has a built-in hero and plenty of built-in suspense.
I was so, so glad it was not a White Saviour film – no white person comes to save the day or becomes the point-of-view character.
In one scene all the white guests at the hotel are on buses waiting to leave the country under the protection of Western troops. A white woman on the bus looks at the black people being left behind while she pets her dog. The life of a dog of a white woman is more valued by the West than the people of Rwanda.
Rusesabagina thought there was no way the world would stand by and let so many innocent people get killed. But later we hear Hillary Clinton on the radio saying “acts of genocide have occurred” to avoid calling it a genocide straight out, which would require America to act under international law.
I loved that. I mean, it was terrible but it was the truth – unlike what all these White Saviour films would have us believe about the nature of white people.
I also liked how Rusesabagina was able to stay human throughout even as his world was falling apart. He is a true hero.
The film was not good at showing the roots of the genocide. It seemed like the whole country had simply gone mad. We never understood the hatred Hutus had for Tutsis – even though it set off the deadliest war since Hitler. Which lets people assume that blacks are just violent savages deep down.