Hotel Rwanda is a moving story about a hotel manager called Paul Rusesabagina. He uses his connections, goodwill and international assistance in order to save the lives of over one thousand Tutsis from radical Hutus. It provides valuable lessons for humanity, in general, and for cultural anthropologists, in particular.
The events in the movie unfold in 1994 when the Rwandan genocide was just about to begin. It starts with a radio broadcast from a popular station. The announcer calls Tutsis cockroaches, and prompts Hutus to kill these minorities.
The main character narrowly escapes attacks from angry Hutus when he gives the Hutu salute. He is a Hutu, but his wife is a Tutsi. Therefore, when one of their neighbors gets killed, his wife urges him to help. He refuses to interfere by claiming that the victim was not a member of their family.
Thereafter, the country plunges into a state of chaos after the death of the president. The Hutu-led government destroys communication signals, electricity and claims that Tutsi rebels killed their president. Paul and his family escape from the wrath of Hutu soldiers by offering them bribes. However, they realize how lucky they are when they pass by several bodies on the streets.
The Hutu extremists have threatened UN peacekeepers by showing them blood-stained UN helmets. Consequently, the peacekeepers cannot intervene. Paul takes it upon himself to protect Tutsi refugees in the Hotel, which is an act of true heroism. A Canadian colonel arrives to take foreign nationals out of Rwanda; the natives are truly disappointed that the UN is abandoning them.
The film alludes to French involvement in the genocide when Paul calls his boss. The hotel owner then claims to have spoken to the French president. Later on, a businessman tells Paul that half a million Tutsis are dead, and soon the extremists will wipe all of them out. The popular radio RTLM urges Hutus to keep killing the ‘cockroaches’, as well as Tutsi sympathizers from their camp.
Paul eventually uses all his money in bribing the killing Hutus. They no longer have water and food suppliers, and the situation gets desperate. Paul uses a witty approach to protect the lives of the Tutsi refugees; he threatens the Army General with criminal charges at the International Court. As a result, the General allows Paul, his family, and refugees to leave in a UN convoy. The group is safe after reaching Tutsi rebel lines. In the end, Paul moves to Belgium where he escapes with his family.
Summary of genocide trials scheduled to take place
International criminal trials for the perpetrators of the Rwandese violence have already begun. In fact, they started as far back as 1996 (Fujili 8). However, because there were too many suspects, the government created the Gacaca; which is a local reparation system. Furthermore, the United Nations set up a tribunal in a neighboring East African country.
The Gacaca would deal with low-level perpetrators while the UN-based tribunal was to deal with high-level perpetrators. The government resolved to execute twenty people for genocide crimes. However, in 2007, the UN urged Rwanda to stop the executions, and they obliged.
Analysts revealed that the tribunal had done little to perpetuate justice because it only passed judgment on twenty people within a period of ten years. Consequently, the country set up Gacaca courts that would allow perpetrators to admit their guilt and get lesser sentences. However, many people have called this system flawed as some judges received bribes while other prosecutors did little to gather evidence. Other cases are going on in the international arena.
One such instance is a German – based trail that started in January 2011. In this case, a Rwandan mayor faces charges of ordering three massacres. The prosecutor claims that he was responsible for the death of approximately three thousand people. This case indicates that European courts are keen on uncovering some of the suspects that may be residing in Europe. European governments have given Rwandese nationals in the Diaspora notices concerning the genocide; they directed the notices to suspects alone.
The movie’s application to cultural anthropology
This motion picture is indicative of the effects of disagreements and hence discrimination between two groups. The entities failed to reach a consensus and thus ended up killing each other. This movie, therefore, illustrates how race or ethnicity can become a platform for the propagation of social and political goals (Rosaldo 44). In ‘Hotel Rwanda’ race is not in-built; people create it. The Hutu and Tutsi are more similar than different.
They all have dark complexions, speak the same language, and practice the same religion. However, the two groups find reasons to despise one another, eventually. The movie does not delve into the underlying issues behind the conflict, but it does mention that the Tutsi are the minority while the Hutus dominate Rwanda. This comes from the words of the radio announcer at the beginning and in the middle of the genocide.
One may assert that these differences relate to the economic influences that affected the nation. The Tutsis were wealthier than the Hutus, and this probably had an effect on the latter perception of the former. However, one should realize that tribalism was not a universal problem in the concerned country. Only the extremists had this problem; Paul represented another group of Hutus who did not mind tribal differences. The fact that he married someone from another tribe reflects this.
‘Hotel Rwanda’ is critical in cultural anthropology because it provides insights about the significance of family ties in this culture. Paul is a strong family leader who did not just limit his responsibilities to his immediate family. In fact, his reactions towards the Tutsis refugees, especially the children, reflect this individual’s commitment to strong family values. He took them under his wing and protected them from the wrath of Hutu extremists. Paul shows that people in the Rwandese culture value family members and kinship ties.
The movie also illustrated the impact of the mass media upon the people of Rwanda. Most Hutus at the time had limited sources of information; many of them relied upon their radios as the only source of association to their government. Consequently, most of them believed the radio presenters even when the information they gave them was outrageous. The movie proved that the mass media can be used as a propagandistic device. Hutu extremists gave their orders on the radio, and expected listeners to follow it.
Lastly, the movie also portrays the culture of giving bribes amongst the community. In order to survive, Paul had to give members of the Army bribes. They would have destroyed his family if he did not do this. Furthermore, Paul uses his connections to get favors from people in authority. In exchange, the people expect favors from Paul in the future. This is a fundamental social phenomenon in the culture.
The movie teaches audiences valuable lessons about the Rwandese culture. One can learn the meaning of family values, bribes, tribalism and tribal acceptance. Furthermore, the movie demonstrates the significance of humanitarian values.
Fujili, Lee Ann. “The power of local ties: popular participation in the Rwandan genocide.” Security Studies Issues 17(2008): 1-15. Print.
Rosaldo, Renato. Culture and Truth. NY: beach press, 1993. Print.