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Hotel Rwanda evokes heroism, horror

by Lindsey Rowland, staff writer


Hotel Rwanda is a true story based on events of the 1994 Rwanda genocide, when the Hutu tribe killed 800,000 to one million members of Rwanda’s Tutsi tribe. Belgium colonists are at the root of the genocide. In 1919 they forced a class system on Rwanda’s two ancient tribes, the Tutsis and the Hutus. The Tutsis were put into power by the Europeans because they were physically taller than the Hutus, although they only made up 15 percent of the population. The Tutsis were given better jobs and more educational opportunities. They were even given identity cards grouping the tribes by ethnicities. Over time, the Hutus, who were relegated to the stature of labor came to hate this class system and the Tutsis.


In 1959 rioting broke out and the Hutus killed more than 20,000 Tutsis and many of them fled to neighboring countries. When the Belgians gave up power in 1962, the Hutus sought to establish their own power base in Rwandan society. The Tutsis became the scapegoats for every confrontation. Hutus and Tutsis look very much alike, speak the same language, live in the same areas, and follow the same traditions. Over the years many intermarried and were living as neighbors.

In the early 90’s, Rwanda’s economy declined and its President, Juvenal Habyarimana a Hutu, was losing popularity. Tutsi refugees formed the RPF (Rwandan Patriotic Front) with the goal of overthrowing the president and putting a Tutsi in power so they could return to their homeland.

In April 1994, Habyarimana was killed in a mysterious plane crash. The Hutus blamed the Tutsis. They used their control of the government to begin ethnic cleansing of the Tutsis population. The killing went on for 100 days; any Tutsis found were murdered, as well as any Hutu who did not support the killings.

To stop the killing, the United Nations negiotated a peace treaty, but Hutu extremists ignored it. The outside world looked at this treaty as a sign of peace and did nothing to intervene. The world turned away and foreign troops, as well as all Caucasions, were evacuated from Rwanda.

The movie Hotel Rwanda starts a few days prior to the president’s murder. Don Cheadle (Ocean’s Eleven) plays real-life hero, Paul Rusesabagina, an upper-class hotel manager who is left in charge of the hotel after the white owners flee the country. This story is told through the eyes of his family.

Rusesabagina is a Hutu married to a Tutsi with three children. His family, therefore, is a target. He hides his family and almost 1200 Tutsis in the hotel, saving them from certain death.

Rusesabagina uses his intelligence and cunning skills to bribe and outsmart the Tutsi.

Rusesabagina urges the UN peacekeepers to bring help to Rwanda. The world turns away and leaves the Tutsis to die. This powerful and compelling movie makes the Rwanda genocide so much more real, and seeing it through one family’s eyes, makes it that much more painful. The cold hard facts are that Rwandans were left to die.

The movie is 90 minutes long and keeps the audience emotionally involved. It is also an educational piece that makes the viewer better understand the particulars of the events and the horror of genocide, in hopes thet international outrage would prevent future atrocities.

The movie has three academy award nominations: best actor, best supporting actress, and best original screenplay. It is being called the “Black Schindler’s List.”

Paul Rusesabagina is being recognized as a real-life hero. He recently visited the White House and met with President Bush, who praised him for his courage.


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