This is the one that got away from the 77th Academy Awards. With only three nominations and no wins Hotel Rwanda, one of the most riveting political thrillers of all time, was more worthy than most. Appearing on every critic's list of best movies of 2004, often first on the list, it is a heart-wrenching account of the horrific 1994 genocide of African Rwanda. Shockingly, death squads systematically slaughtered one million members of the Tutsi tribe within 100 days while the world sat back and watched.
Actors Cheadle & Okinedo "Preventing Genocide"
Like the massacre itself a decade ago, the film was paid little attention by Hollywood or the viewing public. More is the pity, for it is an eye-opener to what went on in an epoch that has regularly called for human rights and liberties. The 20th century is marked by unprecedented mass violence, ethno-political conflicts and genocide, resulting in over 210 million deaths, four times the number of individuals killed in combat during international and domestic wars during the same period.
Irish director Terry George ( Some Mother's Son ) gently, but emphatically, engages the audience in an authentic saga of violence and carnage that took place in Rwanda only a decade ago. Oscar nominated actor Don Cheadle received rave reviews as the African hero who stood alone against tyranny and oppression, when the whole world dared not. Many believed Cheadle was more deserving of the Best Actor Award for his multi-layered performance as Paul Rusesabagina, manager of a four-star luxury hotel, in Kigali, Hotel Milles Collines. With a heartless bloodbath of a million souls as backdrop, the film honours the humanity and goodness of ordinary men capable of extraordinary deeds, risking their own lives to save other lives, while a silent world looked away. As a quiet steady man who functions with cool and competence amidst chaos, Rusesabagina uses all his skills, all means at his disposal, bribery, flattery, apology, duplicity, chicanery, to save the lives of those under his care. Himself a Hutu, he is married to Tatiana, a Tutsi (Sophie Okenodo). Together they convert their luxury hotel into a sanctuary for Tutsi refugees. Colonel Oliver (Nick Nolte) a UN official, totally frustrated with his superiors' ineffectiveness, defies their instructions and joins the Rusesabaginas in saving 1200 men, women and children, who faced certain death by the Hutus.
What is genocide? It is the deliberate and systematic termination of a national ethnic, racial, or religious group. The word "genocide" comes from the Greek genos meaning "race", and the Latin cide meaning "killing". Although genocide has been practised throughout history, it became more prevalent in the 20th century and now the 21st. What causes genocide? Certainly it is caused by hate, but not by hate alone! It is a concept of distinction between "us" and "them" that triggers a process of dehumanisation backed by a solid belief that they are not fully "human"; and by denying their humanity we justify their elimination. The Hutus called the Tutsis "cockroaches".
Why did this civilised century witness more crimes committed by man against his fellow man than ever before? Some analysts have concluded that genocide spread following the colonisation that occurred by Europeans, Japanese and others, during the 18th and 19th centuries. British, Spanish, Dutch, Belgian, French, Italian, and other invaders disrupted the stability of the native populations of whole continents -- Asia, Australia, America and particularly Africa. They disregarded traditional and tribal boundaries, forcing the different groups to share the same land. This dealt a fatal blow to peace and harmony among original indigenous populations. According to noted historian Eric Weitz of the University of Minnesota: "the peculiar 20th century combination of mass society, technology and racist ideologies" has made genocide so much easier than in previous times.
Genocidal acts against Armenians, Ukrainians, Cambodians, Bosnians, Soviets, Chinese, and Jews are often overlooked, except for the holocaust of Nazi Germany, which alone is remembered, heeded, and condemned in every mediatic form during the last half century. Images of the rape of Nanking, Cambodian killing fields, Stalin's pogroms, Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge, Indonesian slaughter of the people of East Timor, Milosovic's ethnic cleansing of Bosnia/Herzegovina, Rwanda/ Burundi, or Darfur in the Sudan, are no less shocking than Hitler's death camps. The focus, dedication, and tireless efforts of Jewish groups, determined to allow the world to "Never Forget", are to be commended. Twenty million people lost their lives in non-combat related massacres in WW-II. "It was the Ukrainian nation that suffered the greatest loss of life" concluded British historian Norman Davies. Why is there no greater outrage, no louder outcry?
How many people have to be killed before the UN, the US, the UK or the Western Powers are moved to act? That such atrocities continue in a world that prides itself with noble notions of love, peace, goodness, equality, and justice for all, defies comprehension. The irony is that many of them have occurred under the watch of the UN. What have they done to stop them? Following the first initial horror, summits are held, ideas are exchanged, condemnations are heard, and resolutions are taken. Within days they are largely ignored and the world forgets.
Yes, they passed a law against it in 1946, declaring genocide to be "a crime under international law". In 1999 Kofi Annan updated the articles of The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. His Action Plan -- A Culture of Prevention -- updated the articles, proclaiming that "the whole United Nations System must attack the roots of violence and genocide, hatred, intolerance, racism, and tyranny" and the dehumanising public discourse "that denies whole groups of people their dignity and their right!" The words are dignified and lofty, but genocide continues. As a human race we have allowed the Turks to "massacre", Hitler to "exterminate", Stalin to "purge". Pol Pot to "slaughter", Milosovic to "cleanse". How ashamed should we be, as a human race?
Two days before the Oscars, the real Paul Rusesabagina, now touring the US, was honoured by the Peace Abbey's Courage of Conscience Award in Los Angeles, previously presented to Mother Teresa, the Dalai Lama, Mohamed Ali among many others. In his acceptance speech Mr Rusesabagina said that the Rwandans felt that the UN and the Western powers had failed them, "while the 20th century vowed to 'Never Forget' following the German gas chambers, let us in the 21st century vow to 'Always Remember'". He spoke of the need for more international action in Darfur. As New York Times columnist Nicholas D Kristof, while advocating the passage of the Darfur Accountability Act, expresses frustration at UN inaction. Mr Rusesabagina's passionate plea: "Ladies and Gentleman, Africa is suffering, Sub-Saharan Africa is burning. Do not let what happened in Rwanda happen again!"
Using the magic of film, director Terry George and writer Keir Pearson offer a bold and vivid presentation of hell on earth, drawing us into the reality of unimaginable evil inflicted by brother upon brother. As one critic put it: "the pictures it graphically shows, the lessons it painfully teaches, should be burned into every soul."
An Oscar for the film would have improved its chances for wider distribution. Films need to be seen by many not just praised by a few. Despite this oversight, raves of critics such as "hypnotic", "harrowing", "explosive", "mandatory", are enough to fill the theatres with viewers and wake the sleeping conscience of an indifferent world.
" Hotel Rwanda simultaneously destroys and reaffirms our belief in the intrinsic goodness of man" wrote critic Larry Carrol. We hope he is half right. We hope good prevails. We hope our Paradise Lost may some day become our Paradise Regained.
It is up to us!
The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.
-- Paradise Lost, John Milton (1608 -- 1674)