Hotel Rwanda – Through a Postcolonial Lens | Teen Ink

Hotel Rwanda – Through a Postcolonial Lens

March 3, 2019
By Dukelinpoting SILVER, Taipei, Other
Dukelinpoting SILVER, Taipei, Other
5 articles 3 photos 0 comments

        According to the United Nations, more than 800,000 Rwandans were killed in just 100 days during the Rwandan Genocide, meaning that six people were killed each minute. More than 260,000 women were raped and 400,000 Rwandan children became homeless orphans due to the genocide (United Nations). Nevertheless, none of us can put ourselves into the shoes of Rwandans in 1994; at best, we can only express a temporary sympathy towards the sufferings and loss they encountered. In 2004, the release of the movie Hotel Rwanda brought knowledge of the Rwandan Genocide into the mainstream consciousness. Elements of post-colonial influence surprised many viewers leading them to descry Belgium and other European influences for creating ethnic tensions that ultimately fueled the genocide. Despite gaining independence in 1962 from the Belgium colonists, Rwanda still lives in the shadow of colonization without a national identity that its citizens project to the world. The movie effectively and realistically depicts the lasting effects of post-colonialism through portraying the identity crisis and the guilt and responsibility white colonists carry.

        The movie begins with the voice of the RTLM radio, claiming how Tutsis were a minority of “cockroaches” and “murderers” and ending with the claim: “will wipe out the RPF rebels.” Propagandas are often spread through radios, not only spreading words of terror, but also calling to action among the Hutu militia. This is the ultimate result of Belgium colonization – a permanent boundary is set between the Tutsi and Hutu ethnic groups, causing the eruption of ethnic tensions and genocide between both groups. Paul Rusesabagina, the main character and manager of the Belgium Sabena Hotel, is a Hutu, yet his wife, Tatiana, is a Tutsi. Trying to save his family from the Interahamwe militia, a Hutu terrorist organization that aims to wipe out the Tutsi minority, Paul bribes George Rutaganda, leader of the Interahamwe, and the Rwandan Army General, Augustin Bizimungu, with alcohol and money. However, as more and more of Paul’s Tutsi neighbors are tortured and even killed by the genocide, Paul benevolently grants orphans from the Red Cross and refugees from the encumbered United Nations refugee camp to stay in the hotel for safety. After receiving a command from the UN to evacuate foreign nationals, all of the UN peacekeepers have left, leaving the impotent refugees behind. Despite the hopelessness, Paul continues to make calls to the Belgium hotel property owner and attempts to seek help from Bizimungu. However, bribery no longer saves Paul and the refugees from the genocide, forcing him to extort Bizimungu with threats and blackmails of being the war criminal who is responsible for the genocide. Luckily, UN forces have come back to the hotel and bring the refugees across the Tutsi rebel line for safety.

        Hotel Rwanda points out the postcolonial legacy by depicting how Rwandans nowadays are still permanently ingrained with the ethnic differentiation left by the Belgium colonists. In one of the opening scenes, a conversation between an English journalist and a local Rwandan shows how Belgians classified the Tutsi and Hutu ethnic groups: “Belgians [considered] us [Tutsis] to be taller and more elegant, with thinner nose and lighter skin.” This conversation reveals how Rwandans are embedded with the idea of Tutsi favoritism created by Belgian settlers, which is the ultimate cause of an artificial ethnic division that is still evident today. As depicted throughout the movie, ID cards issued by Belgians that denote a person as “Hutu” or “Tutsi” are still utilized and routinely checked by the Hutu militia and Tutsi rebels, even after Rwanda’s independence from Belgium colonialism. These depictions realistically expose how Rwandans’ identify themselves based on this ethnic classification, which is indeed a remnant of Belgium rule that continues to be hereditary. Yet, these colonists are indeed responsible for the massacre of thousands of impotent refugees. Through forthright scenes of blood and warfare, one can see how Rwandans are strings of puppets once played out by the Belgium puppet regime, and now each are lacking a national identity that unites Rwanda as a whole. By showing how ethnic division has dictated the daily routines of Rwandans, the movie clearly delineates the devastating effects of post-colonialism towards Rwanda.

        In addition to influence from its colonizers, the movie responsibly depicts how Rwanda still relies on previous white settlers for living. Rwandans are at the mercy of the United Nations as they await international actions to halt the genocide. Despite sending UN peacekeepers, in reality, the United States and other UN countries forbade these soldiers from intervene the genocide and utilizing strong force and weaponry. They are constantly reminded that “we’re peacekeepers, not peacemakers.” Not only revealing the true mindset of these previous colonizers, the movie clearly shows how they are not even willing to atone for the destruction they had done. The movie further expounds upon this white guilt through strategically plotted scenes such as UN news reporters using phrases like “acts similar to genocide” instead of “genocide,” ultimately delineating how the Rwandan Genocide is perceived by the world is not controlled by Rwandans, but by the roundabout phrases these white reporters choose to use. In one scene when more Belgium forces arrive, foreign nationals instead of local refugees were granted by the UN to evacuate. Colonel Oliver, one of the UN peacekeepers, reveals to Paul, “West, superpowers think you’re dirt…you’re black, you’re not even a n****r, you’re an African.” It is evident for Belgium to only evacuate the white foreigners, regardless for the Africans. Not that redemption is unattainable, but these white colonizers still justify themselves by using their whiteness, by calling themselves as “superpowers,” by bringing out the concept of white supremacy, refusing to face their guilt. The scene ends with Paul telling his family “we’ve been abandoned,” ultimately depicting how people’s hope are in vain, forever unable to break free from the sphere of influence the white community meddles in.

        Hotel Rwanda is an excellent criticism on post-colonial Rwanda that reveals the outcomes of years of European colonization. By portraying the identity crisis Rwandans suffer with and exposing white guilt, the movie accurately and effectually depicts the effects of postcolonial legacy and responsibly shows the destruction that white colonists are responsible for. Through scenes of blood and thunder, the movie evokes more than a temporary sympathy among the audience, but a motivation to trace down the cause of the genocide, and ultimately provoking a painful sensation of white guilt as white viewers descry what their people had done to the country. Despite long years after the genocide, the ethnic boundary of the Hutus and Tutsis is still evident, forever unable to be washed away. Yet, history is history. The genocide had once occurred and now ended – it is now imperative for all of us to accept one another and embrace our future instead of looking back to the old mistakes and destructions we had already made.


The author's comments:

This is a research paper and review looking at the movie Hotel Rwanda (2004) through a critical lens, aiming to descry how post-colonialsim and its lasting influences had affected Rwanda and its people. 


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