Monday, September 29, 2008

Hotel Rwanda

Hotel Rwanda, directed in by Terry George in 2004, weighed heavy on my western influenced mind. It was made 10 years after the massacre in Rwanda that occured in 1994 leaving between 800,000-1,000,000 dead in just 3 months. I recall hearing about what was going on in Rwanda in 1994, but it was not highly publicized or widely discussed like, say, upcoming elections! However, awareness of this should be on a greater scale because the genocide is an extreme consequence of prejudice and resentment. The movie showed the extremes of Rwanda to be extremely poor with crowded streets and living conditions contrasted by a power hungry elite (the guy who is harboring machetes whom Paul bribes with a cuban cigar for future favors), and scotch bribed corrupt colonels. Interestingly, "Hotel Rwanda" is primarily set around the Mille Collines, a Belgium owned four star hotel catering to the wealthy and predominately European white clientele. I found it disconcertingly revealing when the massacre ensued after the Hutu Rwandan President, Juvenal Habyarimana, was murdered, the Europeans were the first to be evacuated from Rwanda. The film emphasizes this point. The American cameraman, played by Joanquin Phoenix, is so ashamed, and doesn't want the bellman to even hold the umbrella over his head in the rain as he boards the bus. This shows that even the Africans have come to view European or American (white) people as more important. Later on when the Hutu extremist militia comes to the Mille Collines and demands to see a guest list, he angrily protests, "All the Europeans have left." I got the distinct impression from this scene (and because of European influence since the Belgians aquired Rwanda in 1916) that Africans are simply not valued as much as Europeans and Americans. The white folk were evacuated and everyone else, especially the "Tutsi cockroaches" were left behind to perish in the bloody massacre.

It is shocking and amazing to me how the UN had very few soldiers--less than 300 for the whole country. Paul points out in the movie that the only thing keeping them is alive is that they are on Belgian property. Paul is able to use his connection to the parent hotel the Sabena to his advantage to be able to house the 1200 refugees. In spite of the ethnic war between the Tutsis and the Hutus, I could not see much difference between the two cultures. They speak the same language, have strong family values, and intermarry. In fact, Paul is Hutu and his wife Tatiana is Tutsi. The Belgians a long time ago referred to the Tutsis as tall and elegant and superior to the Hutus, and favored them. For years the Hutus and Tutsis have been at war and the power has shifted several times between these two groups. I believe this would have never happened if control by the Belgians would have never taken place. Even after Rwanda was independent, the roots of destruction had already taken a strong hold.

It is also significant that Americans can hear about the horrors of Rwanda and go on "eating their dinners." In fact, the UN never declared this situation in Rwanda genocide, which would have allowed for more intervention. Supposedly Clinton apologized in 1998 for not taking more responsibility for helping. Colin Powell acknowledged the genocide taking place in Darfur, but only a force of 800 troups have been dispatched as peace keepers and cannot open fire except in self defense. This movie is a poignantly revealing of what is happening all over the continent in the 21st century, perhaps threatening to exterminate traditional African culture altogether. I hope the next president of the US will maybe place more importance on human rights rather than emphasize deploying more troups to Iraq.

I think the movie showed some elements of what remains of African culture, as evidenced in the poolside dance and the Hutu shirts and turbans worn by the Hutus. However, the point of the movie is to depict what is really going on and to increase the awareness of this. The bodies covering the road as Paul drives the hotel van over them and showing the Tutsis getting slashed by machetes and the forshadowing of the machetes falling out of the beer crate in the beginning of the movie depict to a small degree of how horrific those 3 months really were. I cried the whole way through the movie because of the horror and because of how moved I was by Paul's bravery and smarts in saving 12oo. It is an example of how the desire for control and power can perpetuate to hate and finally undignified bloodshed. The seeds for this destruction were planted a long time ago when the European domination occured decades ago.


larry lavender said...

all of your postings are really thoughtful and well composed.

Lachlan said...

Hi Laura! Yes, "money speaks" doesn't it with the Belgian property, the many bribes going on and lives that can't be paid-for aren't worth a sad, sad.

Best, Lachlan