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Film Review: Hotel Rwanda

Film Review: Hotel Rwanda

By Sonia Nettnin

“Hotel Rwanda,” is the true-life story of Paul Rusesabagina, the man who sheltered 800 Tutsi refugees during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.

Paul, played by Don Cheadle, was the house manager for the Hotel Des Mille Collines. On April 6, 1994, someone shot down the plane which carried the Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana, near Kigali Airport. His assassination spearheaded the slaughter of the Tutsis and Hutu moderates, led by Hutu militia, called the interahamwe and the Rwandan Armed Forces.

Through radio propaganda, called Hutu power radio, militia leaders incited the Hutus to violence.

The Hutu code phrase to begin the slaughter of Tutsis was: “Cut the tall trees.”

Armed with machetes and AK47s, the Hutu rebels go from house to house and kill the Tutsis and Hutu moderates on their front lawns. They ransacked homes and set them on fire. Sometimes, they asked people for I.Ds.

The ethnic differentiation of Hutu and Tutsi is a vestige of Belgian colonialism in the country. As summarized in the film, the Belgians used the Tutsis for power. Almost fifty years later, the Belgians left Rwanda. They gave Rwandans their independence and the Hutus came to power. However, those years of oppression created resentment toward the Tutsis. According to the film, the French supplied the Hutu Army.

The masterminds of the genocide wanted the U.N. peacekeeping forces (UNAMIR) out of the country, so they killed ten U.N. Belgian soldiers who guarded the Hutu Prime Minister. Colonel Oliver, played by Nick Nolte, delivers the news that the U.N. will evacuate the foreign nationals (white people) to safety, but they will abandon the Tutsis.

Joaquin Phoenix plays Jack, a foreign news correspondent.

“We’re here as peacekeepers, not as peacemakers,” says Colonel Oliver to the press. The U.N. Security Council leaves less than 300 U.N. Belgian soldiers as peacekeepers for the whole country. They spare four U.N. soldiers for the hotel, who are not allowed to shoot the rebels.

The film shows what happens when the world answers the question: what is the value of a human life?

As the hotel’s house manager, Paul established numerous diplomatic and political contacts over the years. He makes phone calls to ward off massacres of the refugees in the hotel.

Paul urged his guests to call their friends and family for help.

He says: “Say goodbye as if you are reaching through the phone and holding their hand.”

Paul convinced one of the genocide ringleaders, Rwandan Army General Augustin Bizimungu, played by Fana Mokoena that he was on an American list for war crimes. As a result, Paul protects the hotel guests when extremists arrive to slaughter them.

The dynamic between Don Cheadle and Sophie Okonedo (who plays Tatiana Rusesabagina, Paul’s wife) is magical. Okonedo’s facial expressions and emotions capture the gravity of the tragedy. She emanates a pure, natural glow.

Cheadle is incredible.

Together, they radiate the understanding that took place for a couple in the midst of mayhem. They showed the true meaning of marriage.

In the background are actual, press audios of meetings that took place with the U.S. and U.N. leadership. One person claimed they are “acts of genocide.” In response, the question posed: “how many acts of genocide does it take to make it genocide?”

The dialog gives the world enough questions for discussion about genocide, ethnic cleansing and the value of human life. How can the world turn away from human beings?

Everyone needs to see this film.


The filmed explained that in July 1994, the Tutsis drove out the Hutu Army and Interahamwe rebels. In 100 days, there were one million corpses. Thousands of refugees fled to Tanzania, Burundi and Zaire (present day Democratic Republic of Congo). A portion of the film’s profits will go towards the Rwandese Survivors Fund.

April 7th is an international day of reflection, established by the U.N.

Over the years, world leaders apologized for their lack of intervention.

Terry George directed “Hotel Rwanda.” Keir Pearson and Terry George wrote it. “Hotel Rwanda,” has three Golden Globe Nominations: Best Picture (Drama); Best Actor (Drama), Don Cheadle; and Best Original Song, “Million Voices,” by Wyclef Jean, Jerry
“Wonder” Duplesis and Andrea Guerra.

It won the AGF People’s Choice Award, Toronto International Film Festival. Also, it won the Audience Award – Best Feature, at the AFI Fest 2004

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