‘Hotel Rwanda’: Real Black African Superhero vs. International Neglect☆☆☆☆

Just the name of Dev Patel’s new movie, “Hotel Mumbai,” recalls another movie, “Hotel Rwanda.” Both are inspired by true events. The 2004 “Hotel Rwanda” is about the 1994 spring genocide (7 April to 15 July) of Tutsi by the Hutu and the efforts of the manager of Hôtel des Mille Collines, a four-starred 112-room hotel originally built by and owned by the Belgian airline Sabena.

You won’t see that hotel in “Hotel Rwanda” which was mostly shot in South Africa, but the hotel does appear in the 2005 HOB film, “Sometimes in April” (starring Idris Elba and Debra Winger),  and the 2007 “Shakes Hands with the Devil”–both about the same genocide.  The latter is a Canadian film based on Major-General Roméo Dallaire‘s memoir of the same name.

In “Hotel Rwanda,” Dallaire becomes Colonel Oliver (Nick Nolte), the commander of the UN peacekeeping forces, who plays an instrumental, but less than heroic role. At the center of this drama is hotelier Paul Rusesabagina, a Hutu who was married to a Tutsi, Tatiana Rusesabagina (Sophie Okonedo). At the time, Rwanda’s population was about 85 percent Hutu and 15 percent Tutsi. For reference, the current US population of Muslims is about 1.1 percent. The Jewish population in the US is about 2.2 percent. The African American population is 13.4 percent and the Latino population is 18.1 percent.

The current population of Hutu and Tutsi is hard to know. Under the current president, Paul Kagame, the designation of Hutu or Tutsi have been removed from the national identity cards. In “Hotel Rwanda,” you’ll clearly see that Rusesabagina’s ID clearly states he is Hutu. Kagame is Tutsi.

The genocide was sparked by the assassination of Rwandan president  Juvénal Habyarimana on 6 April 1994, whose airplane was shot down. Burundian president Cyprien Ntaryamira. Both presidents were Hutu.

The movie begins with upbeat music in the sunny days with Rusesabagina dealing with his job that requires bribery but the initial voiceover provides a warning. He is reminded of his Hutu heritage by one of the goods suppliers for the hotel, Georges Rutaganda (Hakeem Kae-Kasim), the local leader of an extremist Hutu group. It’s Rutaganda’s voice we hear on the radio:

When people ask me, good listeners, why do I hate all the Tutsi, I say, “Read our history.” The Tutsi were collaborators for the Belgian colonists, they stole our Hutu land, they whipped us. Now they have come back, these Tutsi rebels. They are cockroaches. They are murderers. Rwanda is our Hutu land. We are the majority. They are a minority of traitors and invaders. We will squash this infestation. We will wipe out the RPF rebels. This is RTLM, Hutu power radio. Stay alert. Watch your neighbours.

With the assassination of President Habyarimana, Rusesabagina’s neighborhood falls into chaos. His neighbors are filled. His own family is threatened by the Rwandan Army and the civil war begins. He’s able to get his family safely to the hotel, but one of his employees, Gregoire (Tony Kgoroge) has decided to take advantage of the situation by taking over the presidential suite.

Other displaced people begin to arrive. The UN refugee camp is overburdened. Only the foreign nationals are evacuated by the UN forces. During this time, Rusesabagina searches for his nieces whose parents have been murdered. Rusesabagina survives by bribing and finessing his relations with both sides, even coming under the protection of General Augustin Bizimungu (Fana Mokoena).

Rusesabagina learns from his hotel bosses in Europe that the French, British and Belgian will not come to the aid of him and the 1,200 people he is protecting in his hotel. The Canadian leader of the UN forces advises him that the peacekeepers are not allowed to intervene in the genocide. It becomes clear that saving black Africans is not a priority.

Colonel Oliver: “You should spit in my face.”

Rusesabagina: “Excuse me, Colonel?”

Colonel Oliver: “You’re dirt. We think you’re dirt, Paul.”

Rusesabagina: “Who is we?”

Colonel Oliver: “The West. All the super powers. Everything you believe in, Paul. They think you’re dirt. They think you’re dumb. You’re worthless.”

Rusesabagina: “I am afraid I don’t understand what you are saying.”

Colonel Oliver: “Oh, come on, don’t bullshit me, Paul. You’re the smartest man here. You got ’em all eating out of your hands. You could own this frigging hotel, except for one thing: you’re black. You’re not even a nigger. You’re an African. They’re not gonna stay, Paul. They’re not gonna stop this slaughter.”

This is the  #BlackLivesMatter concern on a global scale. When the UN forces do attempt to help, they are ambushed and the refugees return to the hotel. Rusesabagina will, of course, survive and eventually order will be restored, but by then Rusesabagina and his family have fled the country. Kagame became president in 2000.

Much has happened since 2004.

In 2011, Augustin Bizimungu was sentenced to 30 years in prison for his part in the genocide.

Georges Rutaganda was sentenced to life imprisonment for his crimes during the genocide and died in 2010.

Paul Rusesabagina and his wife fled Rwanda for Tanzania and settled in Belgium before moving to San Antonio, Texas. He founded the Hotel Rwanda Rusesabagina Foundation to support   In 2005, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by George W. Bush.

“Hotel Rwanda” was nominated for three Academy Awards: Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress (Okonedo) and Best Original Screenplay. It won the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival. “Hotel Rwanda” can be rented on Amazon Prime.


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