Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Hotel Rwanda


This is a hard movie to watch and a hard movie to review. It’s hard to wrap my mind around the fact that this all happened just a decade ago. I don’t know just why it should be hard to accept; it’s not like it hasn’t happened before, it’s not like it’s not happening right now, in Sudan. Maybe it has something to do with hanging on to one’s comfortable faith in the very, very thin veneer we call “civilization.” It can happen here, and if not here, somewhere else, and we can continue to either ignore it or simply deplore it and do nothing, as has worked so well in the past.

The United States went into Somalia in a half-assed way, trying to stop another killing fields, and we got that half of our asses handed right back to us, and we scuttled. We were still smarting from that when the Rwandan genocide came down, so we—and everybody else in the world, don’t forget that—stood by while one million people were butchered, mostly with machetes.

Who is to blame? I don’t know. The UN pussyfooted, no question. Basically, those niggers didn’t have any oil, so fuck ‘em, was the underlying but never spoken argument, and look what happen when we tried to help out those savages in Somalia. Historically? It was surely caused at least partly by European Colonialism, the Belgians favored the Tutsis, in part because of the racist theories of John Hanning Speke and others, who considered them more-evolved Hamites, over the more monkey-like Hutu. When the Belgians left, the Tutsis kicked a lot of Hutu ass. Then the situation went to hell and the Hutu majority started 100 days of systematic slaughter that surely are among the bloodiest days in world history.

But that’s not all the story. Africans were fighting Africans before the colonialists ever arrived, just as American Indians were enthusiastically slaughtering each other long before Columbus arrived.

In the end, it is all of us to blame. Red and yellow, black and white, all are racist shitheads, goddamn right. In the movie, a white guy asks two similar girls which tribe they belong to. One is Tutsi, the other is Hutu. Here in the USA, where skin color is all important when it comes to hatred, we just don’t get it. A white American couldn’t tell one from the other if his life depended on it. Hell, I doubt there are many black Americans who could. Tutsis tend to be taller. (It was a popular sport to cut off Tutsis’ feet before hacking them to death.) Rwandans themselves had to look at identity papers which were prominently stamped with your tribe before they started swinging their machetes.

Ah, it all just makes me want to puke. I can’t think of anything intelligent to say about it.

So what about the movie, as a movie? It is extremely powerful. Don Cheadle and Sophie Okonedo are heartbreakingly good. The producers wanted Denzel, among others, and I think that would have been wrong, good as Denzel is. He’s too much the handsome leading man. Cheadle is an everyman, a hard-working administrator who is scared shitless all the time but still finds the strength to do what has to be done. Very effective. Odd that an American and a Brit play a Hutu and a Tutsi, but that’s Hollywood.

If you have avoided this for fear of blood, you shouldn’t. It is not a bloody movie. The slaughtering takes place off camera, and we see the results from a distance. Some critics thought this was dishonest, but I don’t see how. As Roger Ebert said, you can’t make a dramatic film about a million murders. You can make a movie with a background of a million murders. The only way to really capture the historical reality of a holocaust is in documentary form, such as Night and Fog, and Shoah.