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Hollywood's Post-Colonial Africa Printable Version PRINTABLE VERSION
by Lynne Lessard, Canada Feb 4, 2009
Media , Human Rights , Peace & Conflict   Opinions


The distraught state of post-colonial Africa is a popular subject with the western media. This kind of exposure has the potential to gain the much needed international attention. Though what is an issue of concern is the way the stories are filtered. How accurately does western media depict post-colonial Africa?

The film Hotel Rwanda tells one such story of the devastation left behind by Belgian colonizers. Although the film illustrates facts about the practice of genocide, it takes certain liberties with its depictions of "Rwanda of the later days". It is important to note that the right combination of facts and Hollywood's flair to dramatize can be beneficial in delivering the statement that the filmmakers are trying to make.

The film equips the audience with facts about genocide through Paul Rusesabagina's particular situation. Paul Rusesabagina, a Rwandan Hutu native, was a hotelier who saved one thousand two hundred Tutsis during the time of genocide. Sabena is the Belgian airline that owned the “Hôtel des Mille Collines” at the time, which continues to run as a four star hotel in Kigali.

Seeing how the movie was filmed in South Africa and Rwanda, the scenes are a realistic representation of the continent. Rwanda's post-colonial issues are not downplayed in the film. Many scenes of graphic violence show the level of brutality that emerged from ethnic tensions left behind by Belgium. The issue of refugees is also highlighted, as Paul struggles to find enough food and water for everyone. The difficulties that people face with poor hygiene, malnutrition and orphans at refugee camps are apparent when they arrive in Congo at the end of the film.

The director and co-writer of the movie, Terry George, said that he “(...) tried to focus on the incredible resilience and courage of Paul Rusesabagina so that people would be moved and encouraged by the triumph of this great good man over evil.” (http://www.landmarktheatres.com/mn/hotelrwanda.html).

Adding a historical context to this film would have made it the inspiring true story that it is. Not only is the history of Belgium as Rwanda's colonizer not made clear for viewers, but the Belgians are even portrayed as heroes: UN peace keepers and the owners of the hotel who called off the Hutu military. Though Paul is the main protagonist, all of the other heroes are white: the peace keepers, reporters, priest, and Red Cross worker. It is impossible to downplay the substantial role of these foreign aid workers, yet since the movie lacks historical background to define Belgium as a leading cause to the genocide, the movie presents only two types of Africans (with the exception of the protagonist): barbarians and victims.

Through a historian's perspective, it may be ideal to have more historical background in a film about post-colonial Africa, such as Hotel Rwanda. However, the screenwriters seem to have the perfect recipe for a heart rending movie. The cruel reality of the genocide is exposed in the film, and Hollywood's touch allows a western audience to better connect with the story.

There is a point in the film when Paul tells a reporter that he hopes people will see his footage and intervene. The reporter tells him “(...) that if people see this footage, they'll say 'oh my god that's horrible' and they'll go on eating their dinners.” This is often the reality with news stories; however in a movie where facts are combined with Hollywood tactics designed to pull at the audiences heart strings, it is more likely that they will be affected and inspired by it.

Since this is what creates a gripping drama, it is to the media's advantage to expose the truth about post-colonial Africa, such as the filmmakers of Hotel Rwanda have done.



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Writer Profile
Lynne Lessard

Hi! My name is Lynne and I live in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. I'm an undergrad at the University of Ottawa, where I am studying International Development and Global Studies, and Arabic Language and Culture.

I enjoy writing poetry, music and short essays. I hope you enjoy my pieces, and would love to hear from you! :)
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