Hotel Rwanda

12 Comments

Watched “Hotel Rwanda” yesterday night.

And wondered how good the remaining movies had to be for “Hotel Rwanda ” not to have won “Best Picture” at the Oscars or how great had to be Jamie Foxx’s histrionics to have squeezed out Don Cheadle for the “Best Actor” award ?

A little background.

The Belgians were the colonial masters in Rwanda and they used the minority Tutsi tribesmen to rule the country. However when they vacated Rwanda, they passed power over to the majority Hutus—-who promptly began a massive ethnic cleansing of the minority Tutsis whom the Hutus blamed for their subjugation.

“Hotel Rwanda” is set amidst the Rwandan genocide of 1993. It tells the true story of a heroic hotel manager, himself Hutu, who saved the lives of 1200 Tutsis by providing them shelter and support in the 5 star hotel he managed and who , with a combination of intelligence, bribery, flattery, lies and blackmail got these people out of harm’s way.

However “Hotel Rwanda” is this and much more. It is an indictment of the impotence of the United Nations and pulls no punches in telling the real reason why the world watched the Rwandan genocide and did nothing—black African men are not worth the trouble of saving. One of the characters in the movie says these very words.

What he does not say is that, in addition, there is no oil in Rwanda and no Jewish people—-so there is absolutely no reason why the Western powers would even be moderately interested.

Having been in US for 6 years now this is one thing I have seen. The only lives whose loss makes news are (in order of preference)—1) Americans 2) Jewish people in Israel 3) Europeans. 4) Latin Americans. The rest of the world may, for all purposes, not exist.

Remember the Orissa floods of 2001 ? In the year end review on CNN, it did not even merit a mention even though an earthquake in Mexico which killed 50 people did.

20 people in Kashmir die from a terrorist bomb near a school. No mention.

2 Israelis die in Jerusalem. Breaking news.

Coming back to the movie, Paul Rusesabagina—the real life character on which this movie is based……all I can say is that if even half of this movie is true then this man should be a shoo-in for the Nobel peace prize (and not the other shmucks who win it year after year).

Nobility of the subject matter however does not necessarily mean a great movie. If it was, then “Kargil Line of Control” would be a classic.

“Hotel Rwanda” is one .

The movie’s greatness stands on two pillars— a taut script that is hard-hitting and gut-wrenching but never theatrical or maudlin, and a wondrous performance from Don Cheadle in the title role.

The man literally grows in his role. At the beginning of the movie, he is an efficient, worldly-wise manager of a 5 star hotel who is only concerned with the safety of his own family—when the neighborhood Tutsi gardener is “taken away” by the Army he closes the door and tells his wife that “this is not his business”. He also believes that should matters worsen, the Western powers would intervene.

Matter do get worse. But the Western powers are only concerned with evacuating their own citizens and when the protagonist realizes that black people like him are not the world’s concern, he rises to do the job the UN should have been doing. In the process, he puts everything he has to risk. This transformation from an everyday person to a hero is gradual, believable and deeply moving.

A movie like this runs the risk of being reduced to a hagiography—a kind of glorified documentary. But “Hotel Rwanda” does not because the director concentrates on the little things—-small moments of subtle brilliance.

For example, even as hell breaks loose around him with people are being macheted to death in the streets and refugees throng the once-proud 5 star hotel, Don Cheadle’s character still tries to maintain his normal routine of dressing impeccably, taking inventory of the beer and being courteous to all his “guests”—even the ones who are not paying.

But even the comfort provided by his daily routine deserts him once he sees a road covered as far as the eye can see with corpses. He tries to knot his tie impeccably as per routine but this time his nerves fail him—–the silent breakdown he suffers as the managerly veneer of calm control cracks is one of the highlights of a stupdenous tour-de-force by Don Cheadle.

There have been few recent movies that have moved me so much at “Hotel Rwanda”.

In conclusion, it is people like Rusesabagina who make us believe in humanity at a time when there is such a dearth of it all around the world. His story deserves to be heard and seen.

————————————–

Some supplementary thoughts: Guess which European county was financing and arming the Hutu army that was orchestrating the genocide ? It’s the darling country of all liberals—-France !!!! Talk about the pot calling the kettle black.

For all those limousine liberals who call the Gujrat riots as “genocide” please see “Hotel Rwanda” to see what “genocide” and “ethnic cleansing” actually is. It’s not just a matter of numbers.(1 million vs thousands)……in Rwanda the army goes about killing people, the radio exhorts Hutus to kill cockroaches ie the Tutsis——–this is what genocide is—a pogrom that is actively carried out using government machinery and as a part of “state policy”.

Again what happened in Gujrat was barbarity but it was NOT genocide. This is not just a point of academic debate and word semantics…..once you use the word “genocide” in front of a Western audience, it is with the Jewish holocaust, Rwanda and Cambodia that people equate Gujrat with—-a very unfair comparison and a poor reflection on India as a country.

Accepted it’s good sensationalism for people like Rakesh Sharma and the Sabrang people to use the word “genocide” ad infinitum but it’s simply not the truth.

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12 thoughts on “Hotel Rwanda

  1. Well said…read your other posts on Rakesh Sharma…..happened to watch the slimeball in Buffalo…disgusting.

  2. Didn’t you just love the part when they played the actual grilling of Christine Shelley, where she tied herself in knots trying to differentiate between ‘genocide’ and ‘acts of genocide’? Truly one of the most embarassing moments in US diplomatic history.

  3. Devil’s advocate again.
    It was one of the worst acts of genocide in history. But how would you go about proving it for what it was, i.e.state sponsored genocide. I am sure the rwandan government would be as vociferous in it’s protestations of innocence as Narendra Bhai. I am sure they’d be as adept in feats of semantic jugglery which reduce the human tragedy to a twisted maze of linguistic leapfrogging. And my, my! Proclamations to the effect that France sponsored the genocide. How would you ever establish that in a court of law?
    In the end, it is about our convictions, isn’t it? Your conviction tells you the Rwanda tragedy was an act of Genocide, although that can never be proved, in the sense that the perpetrators of the tragedy will never own up. So was gujarat. The only crimes are not crimes of commission, there are also crimes of ommission to consider. A government which ordered its police force to deliberately stand and watch while people were being slaughetered is no less guiltier than one that might have ordered the butchery itself. Gujarat was, and will remain, an act of genocide. Yes, state sponsored.

  4. I disagree with the point that sins of omission are the same as sins of commission. Standing by watching a man being murdered is a crime, cheering while he is being murdered is a bigger crime than that but the biggest crime of all is killing the man.

    At the worst,Modibhai stood by and cheered while people were being killed—for that hang him. But you cannot call it genocide because “one man cannot make a genocide”. An accusation of genocide is a slur on the IAS, the Indian Army and India as a whole.

    Genocide needs the full machinery of a government….armed forces, bureaucracy, the works to commit genocide. Eichmann, if you remember, was basically a government clerk. The face of genocide are clerks, pen pushers, men of arms and politicians. A politician, no matter how evil, cannot trigger a genocide.

    As to proof, there are camera and eyewitness accounts of the army killing Tutsis in Rwanda…none saw a single policeman or armyman kill in Gujrat. When a call goes to the French embassy, the Hutu army backs off….proof needed of French involvement?

    A genocide is a hugeeee thing kaashyapeya…it’s not a word that can be thrown about just like that. Again I am not diminishing Gujrat—national shame, government ordered police inertia, Modibhai is a murderer—-I 100% accept all these (don’t ask for any more proof).

    But that STILL does not make it a “genocide” or “ethnic cleansing”

  5. Arnob da, I totally agree with you about your comments regarding Modibhai.. I am a Probashi bangali who stayed in Ahmedabad all my life till a year ago.. and I have seen what has happened in Gujarat. Genocide it is not. Ahmedabad and Gujarat have a sad legacy of horrifying riots, and I must say that this is one of the worst ones. I always get mad when some well-read American hears that I am from Ahmedabad and talks to me as though I was from Auschwitz or Buchenwald. It is difficult to explain to them, that if you realised the scale of perceived provocation by the muslims (perceived by the hindus that is..) and the way that they took to the streets (not so much to massacre, but to spend a free Bandh day), then you would realise that for about a day or so.. law and order completely broke down. I always remind these Americans of the Rodney King incident and the Los Angeles riots. This guy was bashed up, and so much happened. Just imagine hundreds of Muslims stopping a train, pelting it with stones, pouring gasoline on it, and then setting it on fire (What actually happened might be a different story, however that is the way it was perceived by the majority). If that is not provocation, then anyone else would be hardpressed to find a better example.

  6. This is one of my favorite movies. I was surprised that Nick Nolte didn’t even get a mention on your post. Nick Nolte as the Canadian General of UN force – Gen. Romeo Dallaire.

    I went and purchased the book – Shake hands with the Devil – written by Gen. Dallaire and it gives you the chills. Arnab, I sincerely recommend you read this book. It just changes your whole outlook.

    France, yes, they financed the war. US sent some observers to Rwanda and they said to Gen. Dallaire how they were going to go and talk to their govt not to intervene because all there was in Rwanda was “a sea of black men”.

    UN’s impotence – no doubt. Why? The book gives you chilling insights. Kofi did everything (he wasn’t the SG at that time – Ghali was) but the US was the primary nation that prevented anyone from getting involved and taking any action. It is easy to criticise the UN but who makes UN work? The big nations. The big nations include US, UK, France, China, Russia, Germany etc – in that order.

    This was genocide, most definitely. The swiftest genocide ever, even before the Nazis. 800,000 to 1 million people got slaughtered in less than 100 days. Chilling. Shocking. Makes me ashamed to be counted as a “human being”.

  7. @Arnab: Don’t disagree with you often, but here is one occasion I think you are wrong. Do not think that Gujarat was something that could be downplayed – Modi and his followers did not indulge in overt genocide principally because they knew they couldn’t get away with it. They did everything they could get away with, in a crude display of how they state can ensure that the rule of law is only for those it cares to protect.

    Robert Burns in Air has something to say of people with this attitude:
    A fig for those by law protected,
    For liberty’s a glorious feast.
    A court for cowards was erected,
    Churches built to please the priest.

    Who made Modi and his ilk not go for overt genocide? Fear of the media, fear of the limousine liberals (who would highlight the event and bring bad publicity to a state dependent on industrial investments), fear of the courts and fear that if they went so far that his partyment at the centre could not cover up, the Vajpayee government would be forced to dismiss the government (Vajpayee was of a mind to do so as it is).

    Don’t sneer at the limousine liberals – they do a lot more than you achieve in your blog, or I by random commenting in other’s blogs.

    Today it is the Muslims that are targeted by Modi. Once the Muslims are forced to leave Gujarat, the target will have to shift (after all, it’s easy to fan communal flames than it is to focus on development in order to win elections). How are you sure that it won’t be Bengalis next (After all, the common complaint is that Bengalis cook fish and make the neighbourhood stink). How keen will you be to quibble over the definition of genocide when subtle hints to the police ensure that policemen look the other way when party hoodlums systematically eliminate Bengalis?

    I’ve just returned from Gujarat. Behind the facade of modernity is an illiberal state which cares two hoots for your version of liberality. I personally chose never to take a job there, despite opportunities to do so.

    I don’t disagree that the genocide in Africa and elsewhere is worse than anything we have seen so far in India. But if we become apologists for people like Modi, we’ll find enough ways to beat their record.

  8. irrespective of everything…i just wonder smtimes…how every one condemns gujarat riots as they shud be…but godhra incident is labelled as just a mere accident and hardly gets a mention….

  9. Dear Sayon,

    Two simple questions for you:

    1) Speaking of genocide, why did your family flee erstwhile East Bengal?

    2) What is your opinion after reading the Online Book by Tathagata Roy (that is available on my Blog Link above), called:

    “My People, Uprooted: A Saga of the Hindus of East Bengal”

  10. @ mohan “All Hus are not terrorists.”

    Well, the same honor should be bestowed on Ms as well. All Ms are not terrorists. 🙂

    All terrorists are Mm though 😦

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