Commentary by Kevin
The majority of films are forgettable. A slim minority
are entertaining. A precious few are insightful. And then,
every so often, a film comes along that is truly significant.
Hotel Rwanda is one such film.
Hotel Rwanda is a significant film primarily because
it documents an era in history when the system broke
It was a time when people around the world glanced
up at their television sets during dinner, saw images
and genocide, and then calmly resumed their meals.
Over a period of 100 days in 1994, nearly one million
were massacred in Rwanda—many of them women and
children, and most of them hacked to death by their
machetes. But, apart from a few NGOs and religious
groups, the world didn’t lift a finger to stop
Outsiders did not intervene, this film argues, simply
because Rwandans were Africans. While racism likely
to do with our hesitance to get involved, bureaucratic
squabbling and incompetence were likely just as significant.
But no matter why the world failed to step forward,
the fact remains that nearly one million people died,
millions more were injured and/or traumatized by the
there is one message that comes through loud and clear
in this film, it is this: Never again. As difficult
as it is to imagine, we would be naive to think
that such atrocities will not happen again somewhere
world. The post-tsunami assistance that has poured
from people around the world underscores our ability
with compassion; one can only hope that it may also
indicate a determination that no longer will we stand
and useless, while our global neighbors suffer.
Hotel Rwanda is also significant because it shows us
that in the midst of the carnage (which the film mostly
rather than depicts), there were people who did care.
One of these people was Paul Rusesabagina, manager
of the Hotel
Des Milles Collines, a four-star establishment in Kigali.
Paul’s intentions are far from selfless at the beginning
of the film. He is more focused on currying favor with
the power elite than helping his fellow man. But when the
killing begins, he does not hesitate to use his connections
to protect Tutsi and Hutu refugees, eventually sheltering
1,286 of them in his hotel. As this film portrays, this
was an extraordinary feat, made possible mainly by Rusesabagina’s
influence, intelligence, bravery, and wit.
heroic figures in this film include the embittered UN colonel
tasked with watching the massacre but not intervening,
a young news cameraman who lays his life on the line to
get the story to the world, a Red Cross worker who is forced
to witness the execution of the children she is trying
to rescue, and numerous unnamed Catholic priests and nuns.
With so many films, TV shows, and politicians suggesting
revenge as the only appropriate response to evil, it is
refreshing to see a film that demonstrates characters who
embrace an alternate point of view. While the Hutus and
Tutsis were slaughtering each other as a way to settle
old scores—trying to overcome evil with evil—Rusesabagina
and company were trying to overcome evil with good. And,
miracle of miracles, it worked! For those who wonder whether
there really is anything redeeming in the midst of all
the horror they witness on CNN each week, this film answers
with a resounding “Yes!” There is reason for
hope. All it takes is for good men and women to act boldly
in the face of tragedy.
Finally, this film is significant because it reminds us
that no matter how comfortable our lives are over here,
there are always people living over there for whom comfort
is but a vague thought at the bottom of a long list of
primary needs. With the death toll from the South Asian
tsunami still rising, this is unavoidably evident. But
it may not be long before we, too, look up from our dinner
at the scenes of horror caused by this natural disaster,
and then resume our meal. As any aid agency will tell you,
people have a tendency to respond generously to such situations
out of emotion over the short term. But that response quickly
fizzles as we become inured to the images and return to
our normal lives. Films like Hotel Rwanda help us fend
off indifference and remind us that giving is not a one-time
event. If we truly want to make a difference, if we truly
want to prevent tragedies like Rwanda from happening again,
generosity must become a lifestyle.
When it comes time for the Oscars this February, I hope
Hotel Rwanda is nominated for Best Picture, if only because
that means more people will see it. That said; I am doubtful
it will win, mainly because from an artistic point of view,
it is not exactly a spectacular film. The acting is first-rate,
especially by star Don Cheadle, and the script is solid.
But director Terry George has chosen dramatic realism over
flash and style, which may not impress some voters. I guess
it all comes down to what Academy members base their votes
on: style or significance. If it is the latter, Hotel
Rwanda will definitely go home with the gold.
@ 2005 Kevin Miller.