Heroism and humanity in the face unspeakable acts of murder lies at the heart of the 2004 film Hotel Rwanda. The film, which was directed by Terry George, plays out against the mass genocide that took place in the central African nation of Rwanda in 1994. The film recounts actual events that bloodied the Rwandan landscape: Hutu rebels, now the country’s majority, massacred Rwandan Tutsis for three months, leaving more than 1 million dead while the United Nations and the world looked away. At the center of the storm is Paul Rusesabagina (Don Cheadle), the well-respected and resourceful manager of the 4 star Hotel Milles Collines in the Rwandan capital of Kigali. Rusesabagina and his hotel provide an oasis in the desert for numerous diplomats and businessmen. However, being the fearless business man that he is, he also keeps his connections active with military men and back alley criminals. Rusesabagina, who is a Hutu, is married to Tatiana (Sophie Okonedo), a Tutsi woman, which allows him to work both sides of the ethnic divide. Once the ethnic cleansing begins, Rusesabagina is hesitant to get involved. As rebels armed with machetes enter the streets, the once-serene hotel manager merely tries to protect his own family. But as the situation becomes more catastrophic, Rusesabagina finds himself bribing soldiers to let other Tutsis enter his overcrowded hotel- which now resembles something more like a refugee camp than a glittering paradise. Running low on supplies and materials to bribe military rebels, Rusesabagina hopes the UN will send their soldiers in for protection. But it becomes painfully clear that the UN is not coming and the rest of the world has already turned its back on this nightmarish situation. Despite the sluggish response from the rest of the world, Rusesabagina was a hero- it was reported that he saved the lives of nearly 1,000 Hutu and Tutsi refugees by opening the doors of his hotel as a safe haven. Hotel Rwanda is not an easy film to digest, but it’s a necessary one. The acting is superb and the images it conjures up are powerful and haunting.
Receiving a Best Supporting Actress nomination (one of the film’s three overall Academy Award nominations) was 36 year old British actress Sophie Okonedo, nominee, (169). In the role of Tatiana, Okonedo exudes tremendous heart in the face of horrible atrocities and gives the film a sense of urgency with her riveting performance. Okonedo became the 11th black woman to be nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar. She ultimately lost the top prize to Cate Blanchett in The Aviator.