Hotel Rwanda

I watched Hotel Rwanda last night.

It was a good movie on multiple levels.

Nick Nolte played the person who was supposed to be Romeo Dallaire, and he played the helpless hapless general’s role well. At one point he’s explaining to the main character how the world won’t intervene because the West thinks Africans are dirt. Such a raw acknowledgement of racism is rare.


I watched Hotel Rwanda last night.

It was a good movie on multiple levels.

Nick Nolte played the person who was supposed to be Romeo Dallaire, and he played the helpless hapless general’s role well. At one point he’s explaining to the main character how the world won’t intervene because the West thinks Africans are dirt. Such a raw acknowledgement of racism is rare.

The acting was superb. I was a fan of Don Cheadle before, but this movie makes me a much bigger fan. Sophie Okonedo, who I liked a lot in ‘Dirty Pretty Things’ (another very interesting film) played Tatiana, in another very good performance. There were no bad performances. Everyone was good. The writing was good. The filmmakers presented a fair amount of history in the movie. They even fingered Belgian colonialism for starting the ethnic problems. It is a powerful movie. They fingered US inaction, the whole sad episode about the reluctance to use the word ‘genocide’.

And yet.

And yet it was set in such a way as to prevent audiences learning some of the things that need to be learned about what happened in Rwanda. The first book I read on what happened was Gourevitch’s ‘We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families’. The book is not unlike Hotel Rwanda – important, done with exemplary skill and talent and feeling, and yet inadequate. The story of Paul and the hotel is told in Gourevitch’s book, but the story as Gourevitch tells it based on the real Paul’s testimony is quite different, from my memory anyway, from the movie. I don’t know why filmmakers would do that – certainly the truth was dramatic enough. But I don’t want to harp on that point because I don’t remember the story I read well enough to go through the differences and anyway the spirit was not lost.

But what does gnaw a little bit is the way all discussion of the Rwandan genocide is framed: we didn’t intervene because we didn’t care. It is framed in such a way as to be something to point to when an intervention is in the offing. So a lot of people, including poor Dallaire himself, used the Rwandan example to argue for intervention in Sudan. But not, strangely, for the Congo, where some three times as many died as in the Rwandan genocide, just afterwards, and with reasons that are linked in complex ways. Now, how much can a single movie take on? I’m not saying they had to discuss the Congo. I am saying that it would not have been hard for Nick Nolte’s character to talk about the active plunder and destruction of Africa by the West – or for a character to talk about African solutions (it was, after all, no western intervention but the RPF that ended the genocide; though the same institution then went off and inflicted millions of deaths on the Congolese – which in turn was ended by intervention from Zimbabwe and Angola, and though you could also argue that the RPF’s invasion was a factor in the Rwandan genocide itself). Also, in the movie, there is a French intervention to remove the whites. But in fact the intervention, ‘Operation Turquoise’, was to protect the genocidaires retreat to Zaire.

The point is that the more powerful the movie is on a human level, the more useful a tool it could potentially be – for good or ill. The way the Rwandan genocide is increasingly used in the West, in crass and hypocritical ways, is an insult to the victims, and I liked Hotel Rwanda too much to want it to be used that way.

For more context, check Mandisi Majavu’s recent review of a recent book on the Rwandan genocide, and maybe check the book too.

Justin Podur

Author: Justin Podur

Author of Siegebreakers. Ecology. Environmental Science. Political Science. Anti-imperialism. Political fiction. Teach at York U's FES. Author. Writer at ZNet, TeleSUR, AlterNet, Ricochet, and the Independent Media Institute.