“Just how should I feel about the movie Hotel Rwanda?”

 

This is the question I asked myself as I left the theater a few weeks ago and has asked myself many times since. What should be my reaction be to a poignant movie about one of the most despicable human rights violations of modern times? Horror, that such a thing could take place in this enlightened age? Despair, that the most powerful nations of the world did nothing to stop the atrocities? Triumphant, that despite the danger of being surrounded by such evil intent, one man stood up for what is right? Perhaps all of the above.

 

Helping Oppressed Neighbors

 

If nothing else, the movie is certainly a roller coaster ride for the emotions. Set in Spring of 1994, in the now infamous African nation Rwanda, Hotel Rwanda tells the story of Paul Rusesabagina (played by Don Cheadle), a hotel manager who lived in the capital city of Kigali. While Rusesabagina is a Hutu, his wife Tatiana (play by Sophie Okonedo) is a Tutsi, and the two ethic groups have been fighting each other for power for years.

 

When the Hutu President is assassinated and Tutsis are blamed, civil war breaks out, and Hutu extremists begin systematically rounding up and murdering their Tutsi neighbors. In 100 days time, approximately 850,000 were slaughtered, most of whom were not soldiers, but innocent men, women and children.

 

Compounding the tragic genocide was the fact that most of the world ignored the situation. Writing recently in the Washington Post “Book World” section, former Ambassador to the United Nations and U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright wrote that her, “deepest regret, during [her] years in government was that the United States did not do more, earlier to halt the genocide that engulfed Rwanda 11 years ago…” (Albright was writing a review of Shake Hands with the Devil, an account of the genocide written by Lt. General Romeo Dallaire, the French Canadian who served as the UN mission commander during the tragedy.)

 

From an artistic perceptive, the movie is one of last year’s best. And riveting performances by the lead characters were nominated for best actor and actress in a leading role. Cheadle portrays Rusesabagina in a sympathetic manner as he navigates the chaos around him. We watch as Rusesabagina first tries only to save his family, and then reluctantly begins helping friends, neighbors, orphans and eventually anyone who shows up at his hotel. We empathize with him as he struggles to do the right thing in complex situations. In the end, Rusesabagina ends up saving 1,200 people.

 

Weighed in the Scales and Found Wanting

Despite being an excellent movie on an important topic, Hotel Rwanda (available on DVD April 12) didn’t get as much attention as it should have, even with several weeks of Oscar buzz for the main characters.

 

In a recent issue of Leadership magazine, author and pastor Brian McLaren lamented the fact that Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ captured amazing amounts of attention from Christians; yet the same was not true of Hotel Rwanda. “If we really had the mind of Christ, this is the movie we would be urging people in our churches to see,” McLaren said.