Watched Mar 06, 2005
Martin McClellan’s review:
There's always the risk, writing about a movie based on real tragic events, that by giving the movie poor marks you are in someway denying the event it portrayed. Case in point would be Fahrenheit 9/11, in which every reviewer despite claims to the contrary gave it high or low marks based on their politics. It's a disconcerting thing, I was thinking. How could I give Hotel Rwanda low marks successfully while still maintaining my disgust at the events it portrayed?
Okay, this happens to be purely an academic question because I liked the movie very much. It also seems like a flip concern given the strength of the material. But what I would like to report most about this film is that it sticks with you. It shares many similarities with Schindler's List, in that both Schindler and Rusesabagina were insiders who worked to keep as many condemned alive in creative ways as possible. The difference is that Hotel Rwanda had Rusesabagina for an advisor, and he claims the film is 90% accurate. The things that aren't accurate? In one interview he says that the love scene on the roof with his wife never happened--he didn't have time. Another telling difference between the Hollywood version and the movie is that the reality was actually much worse. Rusesabagina's wife was badly beaten by the Hutu hordes in a scene where in the movie she escapes (saying this is not revealing any spoilers---there are many such situations in the movie where she is endangered). She was so badly beaten that she laid in bed for two week and couldn't move her head, according to Rusesbagina.
There are other ways we can compare the Holocaust and Rwanda, as sickening as it is. For instance, both raise the question of how do you measure the human losses in such hellish situations? The Holocaust was much larger, measured by counting bodies, although Rwanda has the sickening distinction of more people dying a day (around 8000), and many of those dead cruelly hacked by machetes. But the Holocaust is well documented, now. It's part of our experience and knowledge of the world, and it is, after all, the reason that we have the United Nations definition of genocide. So that, as the saying goes, it would never happen again.
But it did happen again--and in this way, Rwanda (and Cambodia, and Darfur currently) are so heartbreaking and frustrating. These deaths could have been prevented, if not militarily, then by easing tensions between groups before it exploded into violence.
Between groups. These divisions that separate the people are largely arbitrary, but always following the rule of class. This is why it is so insulting that reactionary righteous Republicans in the states accuse speakers, whenever somebody talks about welfare or government assistance, of class warfare. No, class warfare is Cambodia, Rwanda, Viet Nam. Class warfare is when your the Khmer Rouge lines you up, and inspects your hands for signs of callous. If you have them, you're a worker and get the privilege of working 14 hour days in the rice fields. If your hands are smooth (Et Tu, Ann Coulter? Manicured much? ) they kill you on the spot because you're an academic.
Class warfare is somebody hacking your legs with a machete, leaving to eat dinner, and then returning an hour later to kill you with the same blade. Okay, okay, I'm being a little self-indulgent here. Let us just say that claims of class warfare in America are insulting because of the very real people who died in nightmarish ways for that idea of class.
But just saying class is such a radically simplified thing to say. It's class combined with awareness of class and the education that this is not the way things should be. Every country with a class revolution, including America, does so with an implied moral code. The US code was that all men (and eventually women and non-white men) were created equal and should have equal opportunity to education, wealth and happiness. The Khmer Rouge code was distorted Marxism filtered through Mao--the code that all people are equal and there are no distinctions between people, so all people should do the same work. Ostensibly there is some reward for merit, but really the reward is for party loyalty and sociological acuity.
I'm not arguing capitalism vs. communism here--that's a game left best to fools and academics (the latter I support, and the former I sadly belong to all too often), you have no truly successful pure communist states to argue with (although the same can be capitalist states, come to think of it). What I'm arguing is that class is the progenitor to this kind of genocide.
And in Rwanda, for what? Jealousy of implied privilege? Because the Belgians defined one group and then another? They helped one group over the other? The ruling class made up of one group, that intermarried another. That you couldn't tell apart without their papers to tell you who they are?
Rusesabagina helped make his story into a movie so that awareness of situations like this might be raised in the western world. So that the questions could be posed--do we ignore them because they are poor, black countries? Well, we ignored Bosnia for a long time, but we did go in, didn't we? He says we should stand up and immediately act on Darfur. we can't let these things happen. It's goddamned inhumane to live our privileged Western lives with the ability to, without much sacrifice at all, help keep the innocent people of these regions safe. But, we don't.
I say it's our responsibility. We helped make this mess with colonialism. It's the very least we can do to help straighten it out. But, even if we hadn't made it (and by "we" I mean all countries who benefitted from the 400 year exploitation  of Africa and her peoples), then our position of privilege in the world means that because we have the capability to help, our lack of assistance means that we ourselves have a hand in the murders. We could have helped stop them.
Don Cheadle lives up to his reputation here. I've always loved the man and his acting, and his instincts were just right here. He played the role down, leaning towards more quiet contemplation than melodrama. A lesser actor would have blown it, but he was very good.
 Okay, a cheap shot here that I want to explain. I don't hate Ann Coulter because she's "conservative"--and by that I mean that she makes the John Birch society look like comrades, I hate Ann Coulter because she's an inflammatory opportunist who makes her living by her self-indulgent and consciously outrageous writings. I think she has carved a nice little niche of wealth, because her claims are so incendiary that she knows she's going to piss a lot of people off. In that way, it's theater. But, she's obviously smart enough to do that, she's just made the choice to sell out and go for the gold rather than use her considerable intelligence to add to the world. She's noise, and everybody who writes about her (myself included) is falling for the trap she gleefully set. All the way to the bank, she goes, riding on our disbelief. Guess she ripped a page from the punk rock playbook and made away with it before we realized she was in our camp. The blonde we love to hate, but I hate her because of her moral vacuity more than her ideas. Her ideas are popcorn, and they'll burn up when the current witch hunt flames itself out.
 What do I mean by exploitation? I don't mean the use of natural resources. I mean the practices such as kidnapping women in a village and then telling the men that they had one week to raise their quota of rubber if they wanted to see their women again. I mean kidnapping people for forced slavery. I mean the monopolies of diamonds, coal, rubber and other goods that the European masters forced onto an indigenous people through brute strength. I mean exploitation, not use.