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Imagine having to give some soldiers all the money that you have in order for them not to shoot every person in your family in the head. This happened to Paul Rusesabagina (played by Don Cheadle in the film), as we see in Hotel Rwanda, released on Blu-ray on April 14, 2011 by Lions Gate/Twentieth Century Fox Entertainment. When Mr. Rusesabagina lectured in my city, I asked him what one should do if confronted by such monsters. “Show them no fear,” he told the audience.
A true story, Hotel Rwanda is about the Hutu tribe’s massacre and attempted genocide of the Tutsis in 1994. Paul’s wife Tatiana (played by Sophie Okonedo) was a Tutsi, while Paul was a Hutu, but Paul was against the senseless persecution of the Tutsis and whoever the Hutus decided were traitors. The manager of the Hotel Milles Collines in Kigali, Paul began taking in refugees (eventually having taken in 1,268 people) and bribing General Augustin Bizimungu (Fana Mokoena) for his protection. When asked by Paul if other people in the world would help them, journalist Jack Daglish (Joaquin Phoenix) said, “People will see the atrocities on TV and say, ‘That’s horrible,’ and then they’ll go on eating their dinners.” Colonel Oliver (Nick Nolte) of the United Nations helped as much as he could, until all the white guests at the hotel were sent back to their countries while only a few black people were initially given deportation papers (but had to return when Hutus stopped their trucks).
Director Terry George wanted this story to be told since most of the Tutsis had not been allowed to tell their stories to the world. The love story of Paul and his wife Tatiana tied the film together (at one point Paul tells Tatiana that if they were ever attacked she should take the children to the roof and jump with them instead of being slain by the machetes of the soldiers). Fortunately the family survived.
Because Rwanda’s only exports are coffee and tea, the world didn’t care about giving the Tutsis the aid they required. Many children were orphaned (Paul and Tatiana took in their nieces Anais and Carine as Tatiana’s brother Thomas and his wife Fedens were never found). The American Red Cross did help but was one of only a few agencies to do so. Thousands of corpses choked the Victoria River and all-told about a million people were slaughtered. Paul thought that there were times that he would die, and “24 hours a day 7 days a week it was very hectic and I had to work very hard to avoid disaster.” He also says that dying without doing anything to help would have constituted failure to him. He didn’t consider himself a hero but knew that it was his duty to help his neighbors (whether he knew them or not) to stay alive.
Anger, regret and hope are the pervasive themes of this story. Don Cheadle’s acting is very convincing as he becomes Paul, brave and patient and the epitome of poise and diplomacy, illuminating traits that saved so many lives. Sophie Okonedo as devoted wife Tatiana shows fear that we truly believe and all feel ourselves as we watch act upon act of terrorism. Nick Nolte and Joaquin Phoenix play their roles exceedingly sensitively and well. Everyone who cares about humanity should share this very important film with all of their friends.
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