I was invited out last week to see “Hotel Rwanda.” Though this was a movie I had wanted to see anyway, I wasn’t sure if I had the guts to go see it in the theatre. My habit with movies is to wait for the DVD release of any movie that might be too much for me to take; that way, I can always hit “pause” and go do something else for awhile, and then come back to the movie when I’m ready.
I am grateful that the violence in “Hotel Rwanda” isn’t as graphic or as overwhelming as it could have been (as it should have been?). This allowed the real-life story to come alive to the audience, for the precarious life-and-death struggle of the Tutsis to be something more tangible than the news stories heard by the rest of the world.
I remember listening to such broadcasts about the genocide on NPR as I drove to and from work each day. What was being described in these radio reports was simply unfathomable to me. I was naive and idealistic enough to believe that such violence borne of mass hatred was no longer possible. How do you hate someone based on nothing more than a word stamped in his or her passport? How do you kill someone just because of an antiquated social distinction? We’re not talking about the impersonal kind of murder with guns and bullets, that allows assassin and victim to stand far apart, to never touch nor look into each others eyes. The slaughter in Rwanda came on the edges of machete blades, as Hutus hacked their Tutsi countrypeople to death and walked away covered in their victims’ blood.
More than ten years later, I am still struggling to get my mind around such an atrocity, and the question of why the West did not step in to stop the bloodshed.
I won’t say that “Hotel Rwanda” helped me to make any greater sense of this tragedy; I’m not sure there is any sense to be made. But it did offer a glimpse into the quiet courage and desperate generosity of some of those involved, and it put human faces to the news reports. This movie — more specifically, the genocide it portrays — has not been far from my mind in the days since.