New-Release Tuesday: Hotel Rwanda

Past the Popcorn provides South King Media with exclusive reviews of Theatrical and Home Video entertainment. We aim to dig just a little deeper than the surface of what we watch.

Every generation has its killing fields. Every generation also has its Oscar Schindlers.

And every generation has thousands of angry, hateful people willing to slaughter defenseless scapegoats while millions more stand by and watch, debating whether the slaughter is actually genocide or merely a collection of genocidal acts. A fine, fine distinction.

Hotel Rwanda isn’t merely a theoretical depiction of this reality. The killing fields of Rwanda were just as real as those of Cambodia, and Paul Rusesabagina, the story’s protagonist, was just as real as Oscar Schindler. The movie tells the story of how Paul manages to protect over a thousand ethnic minorities and political undesirables from machete-wielding Hutu vigilantes and Rwandan military thugs. It also documents the failure of the UN, the Clinton Administration and Rwanda’s own people to effectively respond to the unrest, which resulted in the death of over a million of Rwanda’s citizens—not to mention a decade of reprisals and civil unrest, which Hotel Rwanda doesn’t even begin to address.

Though the setting is unique, the basic story is familiar. Through the eyes of the story’s protagonist, we are made aware of a horrific tragedy to which the world turned billions of blind eyes. At great personal risk and with much emotional trauma, the protagonist learns that, in such circumstances, self-interest is not the defining value of human dignity. Only by caring about others, too, can we hope to be able to live with ourselves should we survive the carnage.

Okay, a lesson worth learning, if we have ears to hear. Genocidal villains, whether Rwanda’s Hutus, The Killing Fields’ Khmer Rouge or Schindler’s Nazis, always adhere to that perennially bad conventional wisdom, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But as Jesus remarked, and as Paul comes to see in Hotel Rwanda, there is another way: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you… If you only love those who love you, what reward will you get?”

Not much of a reward, as Paul learns. Like the biblical poor steward, he has spent most of his life currying favor with unscrupulous businessmen, thinking that bigger barns full of political favors are someday going to save him. They don’t, because once he has nothing more to barter, the favors run out. And Paul learns that the definition of “neighbor” is a lot bigger than family, extended family or ethnic affinity groups.

Hotel Rwanda’s bottom line is that natural disasters and genocide destroy good people right alongside the evil ones. We’re seeing that in Indonesia again this week.

Now, we can whine about problems of theodicy, and why God brings such calamity upon us, and why he allows evil to be inflicted upon the innocent. But there are some better questions to ask.

Why do we so quickly and so generously come to the aid of tsunami victims? Because it only costs us money?

Why do we continue, in the mean time, to repeatedly turn a blind eye to genocide when it happens? Hotel Rwanda argues that in some cases, at least, it’s because we think Africans aren’t worthy of our attention, that they’re dirt, “not even niggers,” as Nick Nolte’s UN Colonel says. That not all lives matter equally.

Better yet: Would we even care about Hotel Rwanda’s story if it didn’t feature Nick Nolte, Don Cheadle, Joaquin Phoenix and Jean Reno? Do we only only care once our celebrities care?

And aren’t we secretly glad that such tragedies allow the opportunity to make—and watch—movies like this?

Hotel Rwanda is now included with your Amazon Prime subscription. You can also stream at YouTube.