Monday, February 25, 2008

Black History Month: HOTEL RWANDA

So far during our Black History Month celebration we've looked at the 1940s and '50s and the career of baseball's Larry Doby, the '60s and '70s with deejay and community leader Petey Greene. Today we jump to 1994 and pay tribute to Paul Rusesabagina. He was the subject of the movie HOTEL RWANDA (2004) and portrayed by Don Cheadle (Cheadle and Rusesabagina are pictured). Rusesabagina, using the resources of the hotel that he managed, saved over 1200 Tutsi refugees from the machete-wielding Hutu rebels, proving that one man can make a difference.

Historical background vs. the movie: the claim is made in HOTEL RWANDA that the Belgians (former colonial rulers) set the Hutu against the Tutsi by favoring the lighter-skinned Tutsi with jobs and educational advantages. The Hutu (of whom the non-political Rusesabagina was a member) exacted a terrible revenge in the form of ethnic cleansing or as it should be called, mass murder. 800,000 Rwandans were killed in 100 days.

Research reveals that the two ethnic groups were rivals before the Belgians arrived in 1916, but the Belgians made things worse by their policy of favoring the Tutsi. When they left in 1962, the Hutu majority took over the government and scapegoated the Tutsi for most problems of the country. The movie especially emphasizes the hatred of the Tutsi for collaborating with the colonizers. The assassination of the president, a Hutu, sparked the Hutu rebellion.

In HOTEL RWANDA, Paul Rusesabagina has the savoir faire and survival instincts of Rick from CASABLANCA. Paul is used to doing favors for the powerful and seemed to be an unlikely savior. Early on in the movie he and his family peer through their front gate and see a Tutsi neighbor beaten and taken away. He tells his wife there’s nothing anyone can do. At great risk to his life he makes a decision (at his wife’s urging) not to turn refugees away from his hotel, first under the tenuous protection of the blue helmeted U.N troops and then the ominous oversight of the General Bizimungu. He concocts a fable for his “protector,” General Bizimungu, to be mindful of the Americans and their spy satellites; they will be used to show evidence against him in war crime trials. It’s the one bit of comic relief in the movie. Amazingly, General Bizimungu, indicted in 2002, is still on trial which began in September 2005. The charges are genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.

There’s a point where refugees are being allowed to leave and Paul and his family (his wife is Tutsi) are getting ready to get on a transport under U.N. protection to leave the country. As the truck is getting ready to leave, he tells his wife that he can’t go with them, that he can’t leave the rest of the people behind in the hotel. The transport is driven back by rebels due to a tip from a hotel worker, and the family is reunited. Eventually, international pressure and the return of control by the military over the machetes leads to a lessening of violence and the family does make it to a refugee camp to leave the country. Paul Rusesabagina received the thanks of many people at the camp in 1994 and when the movie came out in 2004, the thanks of the world.

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