'Hotel Rwanda' Movie: Rwandan Genocide & Oskar Schindler-Like Hero Fact or Fiction?

Hotel Rwanda movie Don Cheadle Nick Nolte: History vs fiction re: Rwandan genocideHotel Rwanda movie with Don Cheadle and Nick Nolte: History or fiction? In Terry George's 2004 family/political drama Hotel Rwanda, Don Cheadle plays Kigali's Hôtel des Mille Collines manager Paul Rusesabagina, an ethnic Hutu credited with having saved the lives of more than 1,200 people who had sought refuge at his property. Some, however, have questioned Rusesabagina's portrayal in George's film.

'Hotel Rwanda' movie: History or fiction? Rwandan genocide is the setting of Terry George's 2004 drama

According to a Reuters report, Rwandan President Paul Kagame, an ethnic Tutsi who led the counter-takeover during that Central African country's 1994 Tutsi genocide, has accused Terry George's Hotel Rwanda of depicting a “falsehood.”

This year's Toronto Film Festival Audience Award winner, Hotel Rwanda tells the story of the Oskar Schindler-like Paul Rusesabagina, an ethnic Hutu hotel manager in Kigali who is supposed to have saved the lives of more than 1,200 people, mostly ethnic Tutsis, who sought refuge at his hotel while the genocide was taking place. Sophie Okonedo plays Rusesabagina's Tutsi wife.

Kagame adds that “some of the things actually attributed to this person [Rusesabagina] are not true. Even those that are true do not merit the level of highlight.”

Who downed Hutu dictator's plane?

A recent report by French anti-terrorist magistrate Jean-Louis Bruguière, extracts of which were published in Le Monde, blames Kagame for the downing of Hutu dictator Juvenal Habyarimana's plane in 1994. That event sparked a murder orgy that left between 800,000 and 1 million Rwandans, mostly Tutsis, dead.

The current Tutsi-led Rwandan government has described Bruguière's report as “fantasy.”

Others have raised the possibility that Hutu extremists were behind the downing of Habyarimana's plane, for they were afraid that he was going to sign a peace treaty with Tutsi rebels.

To date (November 2004), the identity of the attackers has not been confirmed.

French military role in Rwandan genocide + no orphans at Hotel Rwanda

Spring 2007 update: In the January 2007 issue of Le Monde Diplomatique, Belgian journalist Colette Braeckman questions Bruguière's assertions while going after the French government and its attempts to “ensure that its ties, both military and personal, to the racist regime of ex-president Juvenal Habyarimana [a friend of former French President François Mitterrand] are forgotten.”

Rwanda severed relations with France in November 2006.

More detailed accusations against Paul Rusesabagina – which he has refuted – can be found in Rwandan lawyer Edouard Kayihura and Kerry Zukus' book Inside the Hotel Rwanda: The Surprising True Story… and Why It Matters Today, and in Georgianne Nienaber's Huffington Post article “Hollywood Debunked: What Really Happened Inside the Hotel Rwanda,” which chiefly uses Kayihura and Zukus' book as a source.

Inside the Hotel Rwanda quotes a letter reportedly sent by Rwandan doctor and later senator Odette Nyiramilimo to Hotel Rwanda filmmaker Terry George:

People thank [Paul Rusesabagina] on how he was taking care of orphans in the hotel, and he agrees! Terry, there has never been orphans! Who would have brought them? Some people even call me or send nice messages to me thanking me to have been taking care of the orphans at that tragic period. Of course I explain it did not happen like that! But it has happened maybe somewhere else.

In George's Hotel Rwanda movie, Nyiramilimo is played by U.S.-born South African performer/writer Lebo Mashile (a.k.a. Lebogang Mashile).

Hotel Rwanda movie Don Cheadle Sophie Okonedo: Rwandan genocide Oskar Schindler controversyHotel Rwanda movie with Don Cheadle and Sophie Okonedo. Like Steven Spielberg's 1993 Best Picture Academy Award winner and international box office hit Schindler's List, the story of German businessman Oskar Schindler, who saved more than a thousand people (mostly Polish Jews) working in his factories during World War II, Terry George's potential Academy Award contender Hotel Rwanda centers on a character, Kigali hotel manager Paul Rusesabagina, who saved more than a thousand people (mostly ethnic Tutsis) hiding in his Kigali property during the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Also like Schindler's List, Hotel Rwanda has been mired in controversy regarding its depiction of historical figures and events.

Rwandan genocide: Hutus vs. Tutsis

As explained in a BBC report, tensions have long existed between Rwanda's Hutu majority and its Tutsi minority.

The rivalry between the two now similar ethnic groups – modern-day Hutus and Tutsis share the same language, follow the same traditions, and to some extent carry the same Bantu genes – was made considerably worse by the Belgian colonists, who ruled over a large section of Central Africa beginning in 1916. (Rwanda became an independent country in 1962.)

The Belgian occupiers instituted identity cards classifying the locals by their ethnicity, and, in a calculated ploy to divide and conquer, gave the Tutsis the best jobs and educational opportunities.

The Hutus, of course, resented the preferential treatment accorded to the Tutsis. An ethnic revolt in 1959 left 20,000 Tutsis dead. Scores of others fled to neighboring countries.

In the early 1990s, with the Rwandan economy in disarray, ethnic Hutu President Juvenal Habyarimana used the Tutsis as scapegoats, blaming them for aiding Tutsi rebels living abroad.

Following the downing of Habyarimana's plane (the ethnic Hutu president of Burundi, Cyprien Ntaryamira, and several other officials were also killed), the presidential guard began a bloody campaign of retribution. Trained by the French military, they were abetted by Rwanda's political, business, and military establishments.

In the aftermath of the Tutsi takeover – Terry George's Hotel Rwanda movie ends its story there – more than 2 million Hutus were forced to flee to neighboring countries.

'Hotel Rwanda' & 'Schindler's List'

Update: As depicted in Hotel Rwanda, Paul Rusesabagina comes across as a sort of more “family friendly” version of Oskar Schindler. As depicted in Steven Spielberg's widely acclaimed 1993 drama Schindler's List, the war-profiteering German businessman and Nazi Party member is supposed to have saved the lives of more than 1,000 Polish Jews during World War II.

Like Hotel Rwanda, Schindler's List is all Hollywood – the former in terms of storytelling, even if not in terms of financial backing. Also like Hotel Rwanda, Schindler's List stirred up its share of controversy about the filmmakers' fudging of history.

But unlike Terry George's movie, Spielberg's movie became not only a worldwide hit but also a multi-Academy Award winner. Nominated for 12 Oscars, Schindler's List took home seven statuettes, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay (Steven Zaillian; from Thomas Keneally's book), and Best Editing (Michael Kahn).

A modest box office performer around the globe, Hotel Rwanda was nominated for three Academy Awards:


Images of Sophie Okonedo, Nick Nolte, and Don Cheadle in Hotel Rwanda movie: United Artists.

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