Hotel Rwanda

Starring: Don Cheadle, Sophie Okonedo Directed by: Terry George

Nearly a year ago, I went to the National Underground Railroad Freedom Museum in downtown Cincinnati to seen an exhibit on terrorism and the US.  There were other exhibits as well, including one on the types of human trafficking and slavery existing in the world today – including a section on the actions we all can take to help stop the problem.  Writing letters, being very careful to not buy good from companies that use slave labor and making donations tocertain rescue organizations were among the suggestions.   My quarrel with the exhibit is that they didn’t really address the underlying problem.  Until the willingness of people to exploit other human beings for profit ceases to exist, it will continue in one form or another.

I'm not saying it's fruitless to make donations, be mindful of where companies source their labor, or even hope that someday there will be no human trafficking.  The moral of the story is people can control how they treat others if they have enough courage to be a good person when it's easier to turn the other way.

Hotel Rwanda focuses on Paul Rusesabagina (Don Cheadle), a successful and charming hotel manager.  His job focuses on making guests feel as though they are in an "oasis" of calm and civility, even though there is serious political unrest.  Fine single malt Scotch, Cuban Cohiba cigars, attentive staff and loads of Heineken are the tools he plies to ensure his beverage supplier and ranking United Nations guests are compliant and happy under his watch.  His political status as a Hutu keeps him in good social standing, particularly as the Hutu are in conflict with a rebel militia from the Tutsi party.  An old grudge over political power during the Belgian colonial years has not gone away, and the Hutu are spoiling for a reason to skirmish.

That reason comes sooner rather than later with the assassination of the Hutu president.  Paul's Tutsi wife Tatiana (Sophie Okonedo) and neighbors are immediately at risk; he barely manages to bribe a group of Hutu soldiers with enough personal belongings and money from the hotel safe into leaving them alive at the hotel he manages. Chaos continues to break out around the city as Hutu militants capture and kill 'Tutsi cockroaches' under the guise of searching for rebels – but really out of sheer hatred.

Paul remains responsible for entertaining UN peacekeepers, journalists and European travelers, charged with keeping up the façade of civility while innocent people are being beaten and killed in their homes less than a mile away.  Even video footage of the atrocities and arrival of UN soldiers is no relief to the Rwandan refugees. Colonel Oliver (Nick Nolte) angrily informs Paul that global racism dictates only the European-born will be rescued – the black African refugees will be left to fend for themselves.

Drawing on his intelligence and creativity, Paul manages to sidestep an attempted Hutu raid and rallies those compatriots with sufficient connections and resources to find ways out of the country.  All the while he continues to take in displaced people and negotiate with both the UN soldiers and Tutsi militia.  Though his life is often in danger and political status evolves into 'traitor,' Paul refuses to turn his back on the displaced Rwandans.

Inspiring isn't really a robust enough word to describe this film.  Simply, it showcases humanity at its best and worst.  Best in Paul, who isn’t a completely selfless crusader.  He's a regular guy who doesn't intend to become a hero…he just keeps choosing to open his heart and use the power and resources to which he has access to do good.  Don Cheadle does a phenomenal job of portraying a conflicted man – one who has worked very hard to build his reputation and provide notable UN guests with the best personalized treatment, only to be labeled a traitor and refused help by the dignitaries he served because his skin color and nationality were not the right kind.  He struggles to summon the resources to protect so many refugees, but neither can he turn away in good conscience.  Worst are the militants willing to indiscriminately kill people because of their ethnic background, even though they cannot really get the revenge they seek for injustices of the past.

If you:

  • Like Don Cheadle
  • Need some suggestions for doing good deeds (like supporting the Red Cross, taking in those who need shelter, adopting an orphan or using your influential connections to call off machete-wielding bad guys)
  • Like to believe there is some good in the world

Put it in the queue!

If you

  • Are an intolerant, racist, prejudiced, bigoted jerk looking for revenge ideas

Don't put it in the queue.

Written by Jennifer Venson