I’m the only girl I know who’s never cried during a movie, and I doubt that’s about to change. But of all the films I’ve ever seen, the only one that would be worth shedding a tear over is Hotel Rwanda.
This has little to do with the film’s stirring soundtrack, its captivating acting (which received Oscar nominations), or the fact that I was living in Africa when the movie’s true story was taking place. But it has everything to do with my American citizenship.
Hotel Rwanda is set in 1994, during the historical genocide of the Tutsi people. It is based on the true story of Paul Resesabagina, Rwandan manager of the four-star Hotel de Mille Collines.
Don Cheadle (Ocean’s Eleven) plays Resesabagina, a humble entrepreneur who knows that precious money spent on Cuban cigars and whiskey is an investment in “friends in high places.”
When the Hutus begin slaughtering the Tutsis, Rusesabagina, a Hutu, goes beyond the duty of protecting his own spirited Tutsi wife, Tatiana (Sophie Okonedo) and children to take in over a thousand Tutsi refugees under the shelter and mask of his hotel.
The controversy arises when Hutus seek to investigate the hotel for hiding Tutsi “cockroaches,” and Resesabagina’s resources are spent.
Nick Nolte (The Thin Red Line) plays the part of the Canadian Colonel Oliver who, thanks to authorities back home, can offer next to no protection for the Tutsis. His explanation to Resesabagina: “The West, all the superpowers, everything you believe in, Paul; they think you’re dirt, they think you’re dung; you’re worthless…you’re African.”
Historically, almost one million Tutsis were slaughtered in a span of 100 days. And yet the widest response this received from the rest of the world was accurately predicted by Joaquin Phoenix (cast as the reporter Jack) who says, “If people see this footage, they’ll say, ‘Oh my God, that’s horrible,’ and then go on eating their dinners.”
Hotel Rwanda is real and it is moving. But it is not like most historical dramas. I don’t expect any of my romantic friends to change their screen names to IHeartDonCheadle and tack the movie poster above their beds; and I don’t expect any of my realist friends to use high-pitched tones to mock the script or the soundtrack’s hit “Million Voices” by Wyclef Jean. Hotel Rwanda is not a Titanic.
Through this film, writer/director Terry George humbly reveals the panging truth of the western world’s complacency. He manages to produce an impacting movie where superior acting does not steal the spotlight or distract from the convicting message.
This was probably why the film was nominated for three Oscars. And why my friend’s Christian ethics class was required to see it. And why, at the end of Hotel Rwanda, I, along with 22 other Friday-night Eastern viewers, rose and left the theater without a word.