Saturday, January 29, 2005

The Shame of the World

I saw Hotel Rwanda last night.

What happened over there was the shame of the world, the shame of all of us. We turned our backs on a holocaust, plain and simple, where almost half as many humans died as did during the Nazi Holocaust, but unlike that tragedy, which took place almost entirely in death camps kept secret from the eyes of the world, people were being butchered in the street in Rwanda. We had footage of it. We knew exactly what was going on, who was doing it, why it was happening, and what could be done about it. And we withdrew and let the "darkies" sort it out for themselves with blood and horror.

As Nick Nolte's character in Hotel Rwanda put it (speaking to Don Cheadle's character, the hotel owner), "you aren't even a n***er, you're an African!" Simply put, the world didn't give a shit about the slaughter because the people dying were Africans, the blackest of the black. It was out of the world's way, in a continent long considered by many a diseased, ignorant place full of evolutionary throwbacks, not worth anything once they've been converted to Christianity, and their lands plundered of anything the Europeans needed. The fact is, Europeans created Africa as it exists today -- it, like so many other troubled places in the third world, is resculpted, reimagined, rewritten, and recreated in the image the colonizing Europeans desired, the form that would garner the most profit, and then abandoned to its own devices. Most often this means it devolves into war and poverty and disease, with puppet governments repeatedly toppled by warlords who are sold their weapons by us or by various European countries. Colonial powers invaded, organized things to their liking, took what they needed, then simply left; the resulting situation is chaos and bloodshed, as former political boundaries were ignored by the colonizers and different people, often with antogonistic history between them, were forcibly cohabited. When the colonizers leave, racial or tribal or class tensions explode into open warfare. But -hey- what do the colonizers care? The Africans were only half-people to them anyway. Let them kill each other. The world will be better off without them, right?

People chide me for feeling "white guilt" sometimes. Maybe it isn't the most productive attitude sometimes, but when I see stuff like this I can't help it. It's very easy. I try to remind myself that Europeans and Americans aren't the sole authors of inequity and hatred around the world -- all people, all races, are capable and guilty of doing evil unto each other -- but why does it seem white folks lead the pack?

Anyway, it was moving, powerful, and definitely one of the best pictures of this last year. Why it isn't nominated for Best Picture is beyond me. But at least Don Cheadle is nominated for Best Actor for this role, which he richly deserves. He was utterly convincing as his character, and it was nice to see him play someone who isn't a heartless thug or killer (I say that even though I liked him in Out of Sight). The best part about the movie is that wasn't about white people in Africa, unlike every other freaking movie set in Africa I've ever seen: Out of Africa, The Ghost and the Darkness, Cry Freedom (probably the worst offender, because it was supposed to be about Steve Biko, but it was really about Biko's white journalist buddy who, with Biko's help and ultimate noble sacrifice, gets his ass the hell out of dodge when the shit starts coming down). No, Hotel Rwanda was about African people and focused on African characters. Yes, there were some white folks in there, some of them played by notable American actors like Nick Nolte and Joaquin Pheonix, but they were supporting characters to Don Cheadle's hotel manager. It was really refreshing.

Go see this film.


1 comment: said...

I can't think about this movie without losing my cool. My eyes fill up with sadness and my face turns red with anger. I can't beleive something like that happened in this day and age. *shakes head*