The movie "Hotel Rwanda" arrives on the tenth anniversary of the Rwandan genocide. From April to July, 800,000 people were dragged from their homes and butchered in the street, mostly by machete. The dead were stacked six feet high. We can imagine $800,000. Can we imagine 800,000 murders?
"Hotel Rwanda" tells a small, true story. Don Cheadle, who got a well-deserved Oscar nomination for his role, plays Paul Rusesabagina. He is the house manager of a four-star hotel in the capital city of Kigali. His clientele, rich tourists and the military elite, love his style. One day, his supplier drops a crate, and hundreds of machetes tumble out. The man laughs, "I get these from China for ten cents apiece".
Paul is a Hutu; his wife is a Tutsi. These two groups share the same language and are physically indistinguishable. Yet tensions are mounting. The Hutu government is quietly arming a militia, and the radio shouts anti-Tutsi propaganda 24 hours a day. Paul’s answer is to turn the radio off.
On April 7th, the signal goes out, and suddenly police and militia are systematically massacring Tutsis everywhere. Paul tells his wife, "I’ve been storing up favors for when we need them. Family is all that matters."
When the whites are evacuated, Paul is left in charge of the hotel. He finds himself unable to refuse all the refugees, including a group of orphans. The militia is killing children to stop the next generation of Tutsi "cockroaches". A reporter tells Paul, "People will see the footage and say ‘how horrible,’ and go right back to eating their dinners."
What follows is a succession of desperate encounters, where a phone call or a bottle of Scotch is the difference between life and death. One standoff isn’t believable, but the rest are riveting – as is the relationship between Paul and his wife.
Terry George, the director, wrote the script in consultation with Rusesabagina. His movie is violent, as befits the subject, but not graphic. George has said, "The best sort of drama is perceiving something in your head." He wanted the PG-13 rating so teenagers could see it, and see it they should.
What’s most disturbing is that the West knew, and did nothing. The UN only had 300 troops, and they weren’t allowed to shoot. The United States was busy with Bosnia and Haiti, had just left Somalia in defeat, and wasn’t about to send troops back to Africa. Amazingly, we didn’t freeze Hutu assets, jam the radio, or even use the word "genocide". Genocide is happening right now in Sudan. Over the last eight years in the Congo, three and a half million people have been killed. But there is nothing to be gained geopolitically by helping Africans.
In an interview, Rusesabagina was asked why he risked his family to save 1,200 people. He said: "I really don’t know. I felt I was responsible."