"Hotel Rwanda" Portrays Hero Who Fought Genocide

Stefan Lovgren in Los Angeles
for National Geographic News
December 9, 2004

Paul Rusesabagina was never the most idealistic man. As manager of the Belgian-owned Mille Collines, a luxury hotel in Kigali, the Rwandan capital, he knew when to slip a bottle of Scotch to corrupt colonels to keep them in his pocket.

Those street smarts became his salvation when Rwanda plummeted into genocide ten years ago in an event that transformed the genial businessman into an unlikely hero.

As ethnic Hutus began killing their Tutsi neighbors, Rusesabagina—a Hutu married to a Tutsi woman—turned his hotel into an impromptu refugee camp for more than a thousand terrified Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

Deserted by international peacekeepers, Rusesabagina began cashing in every favor he had ever earned, bribing the Rwandan Hutu soldiers and keeping the bloodthirsty militia (mostly) outside the gates during the hundred days of slaughter.

In the end, he survived along with his wife and three children, as did most of the refugees he sheltered.

Now his heroic story is recounted in Hotel Rwanda, a gripping account of a genocide that claimed an estimated 800,000 lives, mainly Tutsis but also many moderate Hutus.

The movie, which opens in limited release in the United States on December 22, has received some Oscar buzz, especially for Don Cheadle's performance as Rusesabagina.

Amnesty International has hosted several screenings for Hotel Rwanda to raise awareness for another genocide, one that is still unfolding: the conflict in Darfur, Sudan.

Last week, at the premiere in Beverly Hills, Rusesabagina received Amnesty's "Enduring Spirit" award. After the screening, the rotund former hotel manager, who now runs a trucking business in Belgium, appeared decidedly modest about the film's potential to stir the public's consciousness.

"All we want to do is to show what happened," he said, "so that ten years later, people can at least know what it was and how it was."

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