By Allan Mendiola
By Allan Mendiola
The film “Hotel Rwanda” powerfully illustrates how, despite unspeakable odds, one person can and does make a difference.
Based on true events, “Hotel Rwanda” stars Don Cheadle as Paul Rusesabagina, a devoted family man and successful hotel manager, who ultimately saves the lives of over 1,200 Rwandan people in 1994.
The film precisely sets the background for the viewer of the true events in the 1990s that led Rusesabagina to take action and help save the lives of many innocent people in Rwanda.
1994 was a time of chaos in Rwanda. The Rwandan people consisted of two tribes: the Hutu and the Tutsi. For years in Rwanda under the Belgians, the Tutsis ran the country because they were deemed more “elegant” than the Hutus. As a result of their repression, the Hutu militia rejected any notion of peace with the Tutsis and they plotted to slaughter the people they felt stole their land. With the murder of the Rwandan president, the Hutu militia intensified its goal of wiping out the Tutsis and assuming full power. The extermination of the Tutsi people was particularly encouraged via messages of hate on the radio airwaves.
“Hotel Rwanda” charts the human atrocities that occurred as a result of the Hutu militia’s horrific desire to eliminate the Tutsi people.
At first, the Hutu Rusesabagina assumed there was nothing he could do to help, particularly in an early scene in the film in which he and his Tutsi wife, Tatiana (played by Sophie Okonedo), witness a neighbor being beaten by soldiers. Rusesabagina assumes that the United Nations would be there to help, that peace between the tribes would come about and that the world press would shine the spotlight on what is happening in Rwanda.
Ultimately, none of these things happened and, soon enough, Rusesabagina becomes the only man the Tutsi refugees could trust to shelter them from harm. Despite the constant threat, Rusesabagina does everything and anything he can do to protect the lives of the many innocents who came to his hotel for sanctuary.
Cheadle was perfectly cast as Rusesabagina because he delivers a performance that is neither flashy nor over-dramatic. Cheadle earned a well-deserved Best Actor Academy Award nomination for his stellar performance here.
Although he lost the Oscar, Cheadle’s work in “Hotel” achieved something far more important than a gold statuette.
The supporting actors of “Hotel Rwanda” also do fine work in the film. Nick Nolte portrays Col. Oliver, a U.N. peacekeeper trying to help Rusesabagina, and he gives a terrific performance in the film.Joaquin Phoenix (playing a cameraman) is also excellent in “Hotel.” In one memorable scene, he tells Rusesabagina how although many people in the West will see the disturbing footage of the massacre in Rwanda on the evening news, they would nonetheless remain uninvolved (or they would “go back to eating their dinners,” as he puts it).
It is a sad statement, but it ultimately proves historically true. So many innocent people were slaughtered to death and the world, essentially, looked the other way.
As Rusesabagina’s supportive wife, Okonedo gives a strikingly outstanding performance, for which she earned a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination. Okonedo is particularly amazing in the scene in which Paul unexpectedly stays behind at the hotel and lets Tatiana and their kids drive off to safety without him. This was her Oscar clip at this year’s Academy Awards, and it illustrated exactly how remarkable she was in the film.
Now that “Hotel Rwanda” is available on DVD, hopefully more people will watch it and absorb the courageous and inspirational message it powerfully and unforgettably delivers.
“Hotel” is one of the most important films to come along in recent years. The lives of almost a million people came to a brutal end during the Rwandan conflict of the 1990s and virtually no one outside Rwanda cared to notice.
Once you watch “Hotel Rwanda,” however, it will become impossible for you not to “see.”