Posts Tagged ‘Sophie Okonedo’

Extraordinary circumstances prompt an ordinary man to stand against genocide in the movie ‘Hotel Rwanda’

December 3, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
Dec. 3, 2015

Hotel Rwanda, the 2004 drama that Terry George directed and co-wrote with Keir Pearson, is a movie that is tempting to look away from. It concerns Rwanda’s genocidal 1994 civil war between the Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups, a conflict in which approximately 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were slaughtered — more than a tenth of the nation’s population at the time. (In preparing this blog post, I saw one estimate that put the casualties at more than 1 million dead.)

I purchased a copy of the DVD in 2012 after listening to an audio version of An Ordinary Mana memoir about the genocide, but not until last week did I watch the movie. It stars Don Cheadle as Paul Rusesabagina, who sheltered about 1,200 refugees from the genocide at the luxury hotel he managed in the Rwanda capital of Kigali. The real-life Rusesabagina co-wrote a memoir with Tom Zellner that was published three years after Hotel Rwanda was released, although his story inspired the movie; he himself served as a consultant for the picture.

Somewhat to my surprise, I found Hotel Rwanda to be a thoroughly watchable movie, despite the relentlessly grim true-life circumstances that frame the story. The script focuses on Rusesabagina’s efforts to navigate the perils of the civil conflict that erupts suddenly the morning after Rwanda’s president dies when his plane is shot down. We see Rusesabagina — a Hutu hotel manager, husband and father whose wife, Tatiana (Sophie Okonedo), is a Tutsi — negotiate with genocidal Interahamwe militia members, a laissez-faire Rwanda army general and various foreigners.

The latter group wield increasingly little influence on the bloody events that are decimating Rwanda, thanks largely to international apathy about what the world mostly views as a faraway slaughter involving inconsequential African peasants. One of the movie’s most poignant sequences come as foreign powers evacuate their citizens, a clear signal that they will do nothing to prevent further violence.

Hotel Rwanda occasionally comes off as preachy, mainly due to a few clunky-sounding speeches that George and Pearson put in the mouths of Nick Nolte, who plays a Canadian colonel leading a detachment of United Nations soldiers, and Joaquin Phoenix, who plays a righteous journalist who trusts neither himself nor the West to do the right thing. Thankfully, the movie is more interested in showing Rusesabagina and his wife react to and try to survive the ethnic purge that is being conducted right outside the gates of the Hotel Mille Collines in the Rwandan capital of Kigali.

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