Hotel Rwanda

reviewed by Steve Sailer

The American Conservative, February 14, 2005


As America strives to prod Iraq to "democracy," which President Bush defines as sugar and spice and everything nice (such as protection of minority rights), "Hotel Rwanda" could serve as a timely reminder that long-oppressed peoples, like the Hutus in Rwanda (and perhaps the Shi'ites in Iraq), generally assume the word means majority rule.

And what the Hutu majority wanted was vengeance on their traditional rulers, the Tutsis.

Not that you'll learn much from "Hotel Rwanda" itself. Its script methodically excludes any insights into why Hutu mobs butchered at least a half million Tutsis and moderate Hutus in the spring of 1994.

No, the reason to see this solidly made little movie is Don Cheadle's subtle performance as Paul Rusesabagina, the suave Hutu manager of Rwanda's finest hotel, who saved 1,286 refugees through Schindler's List-style subterfuges.

Cheadle has been to film acting what Dave Chappelle was to television comedy -- the man who had been the Next Big Thing for so long he was becoming a joke. "Hotel Rwanda" won't make Cheadle a matinee idol -- the topic is too foreboding -- but it finally gives him the character lead he deserves.

Further, "Hotel Rwanda" is less depressing than it sounds, offering one of the few Rwandan stories with a happy ending. On-screen gore is minimized, allowing the film a PG-13 rating.

Unfortunately, the screenplay aims at self-absorbed white liberals who think all Africans look alike and that white racism is the root of all evil. The script even claims that it's merely a white myth that Tutsis tend to be taller than Hutus, asserting that the Belgian imperialists arbitrarily assigned those identities to random Rwandans. Yet, soon the Hutu Power radio station is broadcasting the prearranged code to begin exterminating the Tutsis: "Cut down the tall trees."

Rwanda's true history is more instructive. The medium-height Bantu Hutu farmers arrived 2,000 years ago and drove the pygmoid hunter-gatherer Twa into the forests. Then, about the time of Cortez, the tall, slender Tutsi herdsmen invaded from the north and, according to Gary Brecher, the acerbic "War Nerd" columnist, "claimed all the land, on the legal basis that if you objected they'd kill you."

The Tutsi rulers treated the Hutu peasantry with the same contempt the Norman lords display toward the Saxon yeomen in Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe. Commenting on Rwanda's "indigenous racism," Congo-born sociologist Pierre L. van den Berghe reported that the Tutsis, like other aristocracies, saw themselves as "astute in political intrigue, born to command, refined, courageous, and cruel."

The Tutsi ascendancy resembled the white pre-eminence in Latin America. Intermarriage was frequent, yet physical differences between the classes endured, just as they have in Mexico, where despite five centuries of intermarrying, the elite remains much taller and fairer than the masses. The trick is that Mexico's most successful short, dark men often wed tall, blonde women and have more European-looking offspring, thus replenishing the caste system. Likewise, in "Hotel Rwanda," Cheadle's ultra-competent Hutu executive is married to a Tutsi beauty who is taller and fairer than he is. (She's played by Sophie Okonedo, whose mother is a Jewish Englishwoman.)

Prudent imperialists divide and rule, employing as their local surrogates a well-organized minority like the Tutsis in Belgian Rwanda or the Sunnis in British Iraq. In contrast, the Bush Administration disbanded the Sunni-run Iraqi Army on the advice of Shi'ite exile Ahmed Chalabi. Many Sunnis decided to fight rather than let us give the whip hand to the Shi'ites, whose hatred they had long provoked.

When the Belgians went home in 1962, the Hutus voted themselves into power and began persecuting their ex-overlords. Many Tutsis fled to Uganda, from which their sons invaded Rwanda in 1990. Rather like the French Revolutionaries guillotining the aristocrats in response to the old order's attack on France in 1792, fearful Hutu extremists decided upon a final solution.

"Hotel Rwanda" blames white racism for the fecklessness of the United Nations' response to the genocide, but fails to mention that the head of the U.N.'s peacekeeping operations who gave the disastrous order not to fight to the 2,500 UN soldiers under Canadian general Romeo Dallaire (played by Nick Nolte) was Kofi Annan, who is probably not a white racist.

Nor do we see that the Tutsi rebel army leader, current President Paul Kagame, opposed outside pacification. He preferred that his fellows Tutsis die while he conquered Rwanda, thus ending the experiment in rule by the Hutu majority.

Addendum: Bill Clinton kept close tabs on the attitudes of the Congressional Black Caucus during the slaughter, but they showed no interest in having the U.S. military intervene in Rwanda. Their foreign policy interests in 1994 were focused on: first, celebrating the election of Nelson Mandela in South Africa, and, second, using the U.S. military to throw out the mulatto government in Haiti and reinstall Haiti's Black Power leader Father Aristide. Rwandan intervention would have been a distraction from those priorities, and an embarrassing one as well for the Congressional Black Caucus, since it would have drawn attention to the problems of black-ruled countries.


Steve Sailer ( is a columnist for and the film critic for The American Conservative.


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