Hotel Rwanda (2004)

The last words of the orphan slain by the Hutus; “Please don’t let them kill me. I… I promise I won’t be Tutsi anymore.”

Hotel Rwanda is a drama type film about the Rwandan Genocide that took place in 1994 among the Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups. The movie was released in 2004, the 10th anniversary of the massacre. The movie is directed by Terry George and features Don Cheadle and Sophie Okonedo as hotel manager Paul Rusesabagina who is Hutu and his Tutsi wife Tatiana. The film is about the massacre between the Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups in Rwanda in 1994, which ended with the death of approximately 800,000 Tutsi and moderate Hutus, and the script is based on the actual events in the Rwanda Massacre. The movie suggests for those interested in International Relations, especially those interested in African Studies, the peacekeeping role of the UN, and the concept of the Humanitarian Intervention.

In order to better absorb the movie, it is necessary to briefly examine the Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups. After the Rwandan people were colonized by the Belgians, they were divided into two ethnic groups by the Belgians according to a set of criteria to control the area more easily.  Belgians initially ruled the country with Tutsis, who were the minority group. When they left the country, they left the management Hutus who are the majority. This condition increased the hatred between the so-called Hutu-Tutsi ethnic group and paved the way for the incidents leading up to the genocide. However, there was no such ethnic separation before Rwanda was colonized. The same people, the same culture, the same history… They were only divided according to some criteria by Belgium. The point that best touches on this situation in the film can be understood by the words of the journalist who came for the shooting Rwandan Genocide, “they could be twins” after learning that the two Rwandan women have different ethnicities.

The film starts at the time when corruption and bribery were at peak and near the genocide. Paul Rusesabagina is the director of Hôtel des Mille Collines. He tries to save as many Tutsi as he can during the massacre. For this, he takes Tutsis to the hotel. After a while, the hotel turned almost into a refugee camp. Meanwhile, Paul tries to save the lives of many people by using his connections.

During the movie, the massacre is directed by the radio. People are provoked by radio at the beginning of the revolt. Interahamwe militias, supported by the Hutu army, informs the location of Tutsis through the radio. The signal that started the genocide is “it’s time to cut down the tall trees”. The Hutus, who received this instruction from the radio, started to kill Tutsi. The radio’s being such an effective tool can be attributed to the fact that the only news source of the public at that time was radio. On the other hand, it should be emphasized that Tutsi are likened to “tall trees”. The reason why Tutsi was called tall trees was that during the colonial period, the Belgians distinguished the taller and thinner ones as Tutsi and the shorter and chunky ones as Hutu. Only just this signal could indicate to whom the real responsibility of the massacre. Furthermore, it can be said that addressing Tutsis as “tall trees” was a factor facilitating the massacre. It is difficult to kill a person, but it will be easier if you simulate that person to another being. During the documentary film, Tutsis often are likened to cockroaches. If you remember Gaddafi’s speech regarding the domestic disturbance of Libya, he was likened rebellious to a cockroach. At the time of the genocides, such comparisons are quite common and this is well seen in the movie.

Another point that should be mentioned about the film is the role of the United Nations in peacemaking and peacekeeping. The film makes us interrogate the role of the United Nations. Unfortunately, the UN could not prevent the slaughter of nearly 1 million people in a period of 100 days. During the movie Colonel Oliver of the UN stresses that they are here as peacekeepers, not peacemakers. However, considering the magnitude of the massacre, the peace-making role of the United Nations is also being questioned. The following statement of Colonel Oliver to Paul Rusesabagina best summarizes the situation. “You’re black. You are not even a nigger. You are an African. [after telling Paul the West thinks his people are dirt] They are not going to stay, Paul. They are not going to stop the slaughter.”

In conclusion, the film perfectly portrays the Rwandan genocide. It illustrates how ruthless humankind might be, even could kill their neighbours with machetes. The film shows that the West remained unresponsive while the massacre was taking place, but in fact, they were the main responsible for the massacre. I would like to conclude the analysis with the following speech of Paul Rusesabagina to Tutsis refugees in the hotel: “There will be no rescue, no intervention force. We can only save ourselves. Many of you know influential people abroad, you must call these people. You must tell them what will happen to us… say goodbye. But when you say goodbye, say it as though you are reaching through the phone and holding their hand. Let them know that if they let go of that hand, you will die. We must shame them into sending help.”

Mustafa Burak Şener

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