Random thoughts on most things from A. M. Craig.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Review: Hotel Rwanda

Hotel Rwanda? I know, you're thinking, "That movie came out years ago." True, true, but I have special occasion to revisit the not-too old movie. Today I had the chance to hear the film's inspiration, Paul Rusesabagina, speak at a BYU Forum.

First, the film. I watched it last night in preparation for today's speaker.

For the century before our story "starts", Rwanda had been the product of European Imperialism. Since the end of World War I, Belgian colonists had made a great impact on existing tribal dynamics. One of the changes was to "simplify" the existing power structure, by giving rule to the minority Tutsi tribe, who vaguely had more caucasian features. It only makes sense, the whiter the better, right? Ridiculous, I know. But it's easy for me to criticize 100 years later.

By the mid-sixties, the nation had gained an unstable independence. Elections were held, but violence and revolt were common. Really, the conflict of '94 was another in a long line of wars driven by lust for power.

In the spring of 1994, Rwanda was a powder-keg. I won't pretend to understand the seemingly endless war, but here is what I think I understand. The majority Hutu tribe held the government, and extremist Hutu Power groups were gaining popular support. The feuding tribes had recently agreed on a peace treaty organized by the Rwandan president. Despite the boiling hatred between some groups, it seemed like some progress may be made for stability and peace. All that came apart when his jet was shot down on April 6. After that, it was all hell.

Paul Rusesabagina was the manager of the Hôtel des Mille Collines in the capital city of Kigali. He was successful, had a family, and a good life. He was Hutu (then the ruling party) but his wife was Tutsi. Shortly after the presidential assassination, Hutu militias gave the signal to began killing any and all Tutsis. "Cut the Tall Trees" was the code to echo over the airwaves that unleashed the slaughter that killed one in seven Rwandans. When Europeans were evacuated and only a token U.N. force left for "peacekeeping", Tutsis had nobody to turn to, except maybe the few Hutus they could trust. Paul was one of those.

For almost two months, Paul housed refugees in his hotel, and held off Hutu militias through cunning, favors, and an incredible amount of luck.

Hotel Rwanda is readily comparable to Schindler's List, though far less stylized. It is a sad and inspiring story. If you haven't seen it, you should.

Now, the man. Paul was really just as the story portrays him. He was just a guy who did the right thing. He wasn't an amazing orator, but he was loud. What a set of lungs on that guy. He recounted the events from that singular period of his life. He explained the accuracies and compromises of the film (for example, the belligerent Hutu hotel worker Gregoire was a composite character). From what he said, I was impressed at the film's integrity to the real events. He urged us to keep hope, have faith in God, and more than anything, do whatever we can to stand for good in a world of so much evil. If we don't, who will? If anybody knows that lesson, Paul does. I'm glad I was there today.

There was a Q/A session afterwards that I hoped to attend, but was misdirected by BYU Info. They are usually very helpful, but I was quite upset when I was told the Cougar Room was in the WILK, only to find it was in the Marriott Center I had just left. Grrrrrrr.

Dear ol' Dave also attended the Forum. When you see his post, pay close attention to his last comment.

NOTE: I learned about the Rwandan genocide of 1994 from what is, I believe, probably the finest program on broadcast television today; Frontline. It was programs like this, and even this particular episode, that helped persuade me to a broadcast journalism career. I highly recommend watching the available clips online, or if you can, access a full length copy of the program.

African civil war seems to be the standard rather than the rule. Paul was one remarkable person to do the right thing. There were many more.

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