A People Erased

A People Erased


by Lota

When I think of borders now, I think of them in terms of mental barriers that go up subconsciously, effectively creating a shield of misunderstanding. These offhand judgments that we make about people without even the slightest of thoughts, “man, what are those shoes? She must not be very stylish”,conveniently forgetting of course when those Jeffery Campbell ‘sole-less’ heels had their place of pride in my shoe coffers. I have been currently gorging myself on ‘The Only Way Is Essex’ which is a British reality tv show about self-proclaimed socialites in Essex and at some point, there was this character introduced that went by the moniker ‘Gatsby’, he had certain features that were in my opinion stereotypically middle eastern. As the show was British of course and because most of the characters were of British descent, the natural assumption to make was that Gatsby was British. He made me uneasy, for some reason I just could not shake of this slight irritation that bubbled up within me whenever his character came up on screen and it troubled me because it was such an unsettling feeling. Sometime in season 19 his mother is introduced into the plot and it is revealed that he is in fact Indian. It all immediately made sense and just like that my irritation with him had dissipated. He had stepped behind the borders that I had created for him in my head.

It is easy to think of borders as big men holding large guns protecting a barbed wire fence that is supposed to keep the unwanted ‘others’ away. A physical eruption of the Lacanian concept of rivalry with the other[1],we ( I?) correctly and incorrectly conjure up by instinct, passports and visas and security guards yelling aggressive well wishes and scrawny power drunk men in ill-fitting  dark suits and the smell of anxiety and desperation and resignation and British airways flights and long queues and fast-track and going just as slowly and bodies lined up in dis-organized organization and passports and stamps and being reduced to numbers and codes and “what is your purpose of visiting?” and luggage and guns and boats and Libya. It is all these things and it is in the little things as well, the everyday things. “Forever is composed of Nows” [2]EmilyDickinson once said, and I think that is as apt a way of summing it as any I have ever come across. That is why a question as simple as what my favorite movie is, involves a complex processing of emotions and thoughts that result in choices made for myriads of reasons that range from the incredibly inane to the resolutely profound.

My favorite movie is Hotel Rwanda. It is my favorite movie because I chose it to be my favorite movie. I chose it because whenever I am asked the question I have always given that answer, for as long as I can remember. I have seen it so many times, the words are as familiar as the Psalms my mother has sung all my life. Comforting. Familiar. Home. My best friend lying on my bed as we both silently watch a movie that she hates for the billionth time because she knows it relaxes me. Love. Anger Biafra. Evil. Outrage. All the people that are killed for the sake of men who plead for their own lives as they are about to be killed. The reasons are ever changing. I think that is why I love the movie so much because it has such a subtle element of existentialism, that perhaps only I am able to perceive admittedly, in that it morphs as my personality morphs with time and experience. Each watching is a re-telling, not of the story as I have seen that and as we all know according to Aristotle doesn’t change[3],but rather of the plot. Whereas a hormonal teenager I once saw a love story, asa disparate youth stuck in the diaspora in pursuit of my ‘dreams and aspirations’ of which I am yet to be briefed on fully, I now see a political statement about the evils perpetuated by the West at the height of colonialist sentimentalism; the evil it continues to perpetuate now.  

The movie is set in Rwanda at the peak of the genocide of 1994 that saw almost as many as 800,000[4]Tutsi people murdered by their fellow countrymen, the Hutus. The film follows the protagonist Paul Rusesabagina and his family as they try to stay alive during the fighting whilst trying to navigate through the gory version of everyday life that they had been thrust into. The movie tells the story of an ordinary man’s resilience in the face of grave danger and it is told against the backdrop of one of the most violent genocides ever recorded in African history.The war was the result of a classification system that the colonial Belgians had come up with and used arbitrarily to divide the people of Rwanda into‘Hutus’ and ‘Tutsis’. This divide which was based off the white man’s highly flawed perception of physical features had become so ingrained into the mentality of the people that it managed to survive the departure of its originators. The interesting thing about the situation was that the Belgians had set up a system of rule that had put the Tutsis at the helm of affairs during their occupation of the state but left power in the hands of the rather very disgruntled Hutus when they ceded Rwanda back to her people at independence, one can only but infer deliberate Machiavellian type plotting on the part of the Belgians. It also beggars the question of why the Belgians even had a say in the political affairs of a country that had for all intents and purposes become ‘free’. It speaks about colonialism and its effects, the event of recent times suggests to me that the colonialist left but the managed to hold on to the reins of power in ways that remain invisible to the naked eye and to the unquestioning mind.

Paul our hero is a Hutu who happens to be married to a beautiful Tutsi woman calledTatiana. He is the manager at Hotel De Milles Collines in Kigali, which acts as the central location for most of the film. It is the place where a good number of the major filmic events occurred. Paul is an eager, smooth talking, social climber who is trying to play the white man’s game in order to create a good life for his wife and children. He is charming and because of this has no shortage of admirers and people who looked up to him in the film. He knew how to work the system and he ran the hotel like and well-tuned orchestra, he took particular pride in the confidence and friendship he perceived from the appreciation he got for all the extra things he did to make the important guests happy especially those of a lighter hue. He came to find as the movie went on that even though the white guest liked him alright, the merely liked him as one would a faithful dog or servant. He was certainly no friend to them,I don’t believe. Paul came to find that the white man’s game was designed for the white man alone to win and for all others to lose.

The film is highly graphic in a way that the gore is undercut greatly by the quiet beauty in the truth of the events it depicted. It explores a number of themes from war and the mechanisms of power[5]to the ordinariness of extraordinary heroism. In the face of all the danger that raged around them, Paul inspired by his love for his family, an ordinary man, shows immense courage that could only be described as extraordinary to save the lives of many people including his family and friends[6].The movie is a wonderful telling of the Rwandan Genocide as it is that of man’s resilience in the face of outstanding odds. I believe that every aspect of the film from the soundtrack to the choice of cast aligned perfectly to create a movie which I believe continues to stand the test of time. It stand for me not only as an object of entertainment but also a tool of reflection but of myself and of the society in which I find myself. I have decided to explore the themes explored in the film through random musings which I have titled “I THINK”



I think I shall tell you a tale, of a nation divided, of men who stood between the cracks and dug even deeper down.

I think I shall tell you about Paul and Milles Collines and a single man’s battle to keep his wit seven as all around him battles rained down.

I think it is the way that ‘African Beer’ plays against the backdrop of a scenery that could have been shot in my own backyard, as just around the corner the stirrings of a war poured forth into the street as men with machetes, a subtle reminder of the connectedness of the ‘African Struggle’

I think it goes back, before that, to the black screen. The screen with the voice that dripped with venomous hatred, the one that reverberated with a contempt that had been inherited from the white man.

I think it is in actually being confronted with the voice behind the vile word and dismissing him just as Paul had. A filmic embodiment of the banalities of evil[7].

I think that Paul wanted to remain obstinate because to question even one thing was to see his carefully crafted logic crumble to dust. Even in the face of overwhelming evidence to remain as it were an oasis, a calm in the desert. He chose to bury his head in the sand. As do you, as do I, as do we.

I think about the war and the war it is modelled after and the war that war was reminiscent of, and that other war that happened right before the other two but after the last three. Have there always been so much fighting? And has it always been for nothing?

I think about the smaller wars that were fought against the backdrop of the bloodshed as the movie unfurled, as it unwound to reveal intricate social connections as one‘ otherness’ was replaced for another type of ‘otherness’.  Between lover and lover, between friend and neighbor, between a master and subjects who dared demand freedom, between brother and brother.

I think I about watching this film as a child and being aloof to all these symbolisms, of being an adult and being overwhelmed by the sheer number of hidden signs and perceived messages.

I think about why I no longer watch the story as an epic love fable as I once did as a teenager, why I no longer saw it as Paul’s determination to keep his wife and children at all costs. Why I have now seemingly for the first time become privy to the delicate issues so daintily welded into the fabric of the telling, so much so that I feel deceived.

I think about Paul’s wife and the fact that she has a name ‘Tatiana’, but will forever for some reason be first of all Paul’s wife. Of this character whom is constructed mostly through her motherly instincts heightened manically by the prevailing danger, but which paled in comparison to her role as ‘wife’ and almost suicidal sense of loyalty. Of this character through whom Paul’s weaknesses seemed to become more apparent even as he brought to light hers.

I think about the neighbor being beaten and taken away, as Paul and his wife looked on, as she urged him to do something, to say something even as she herself did nothing, said nothing. She stood back as he shut the gate to an ugliness that was not theirs to bear. I watched as I did the same as I would have shut the gate, if I was in the same.

I think about Pauland the Milles Collins and how the only safe haven was the place which signified the white man’s presence. The Mille Collins was the center force of the film a symbol of the wests continued imposition on just about everything.They create the stories and they tell the stories and they erase other stories and they retell other stories and then we are all left to untangle the mess.They fled of course, the white men, in the wake of a war they laid the foundations for.

I think about Paul’s blind faith in the power of living by the rules. The rules laid by the colonialists of old, of the neo-colonialists of now. The way in which he played the game in hopes of elevation above a status that only existed in the first place because the white man had deemed it so. The way he was left behind just like all the rest. The way he was ultimately still only one of ‘these people’

I think about all those people being left behind to die, of the realization that there was to be no redemption. The land had given all that it could to those in charge and now it could perish if it so wished and its people with it! Nobody cared.

I think about the fact that nobody cared and nobody cares and nobody will care as the world crashes and burns and children are killed and women are raped and homes are destroyed and lives are shattered and families are torn apart and people get rich off of it and people control the story and people write it so these things don’t matter and people go along with it and people don’t and nobody cared and nobody cares and nobody will care.

I think about all these bad things and I think about the children singing that beautiful haunting melody that always manages to send chills down my spine, I think of the white men who documented these tragedies and a people who continue to heal from the wounds even as normality proclaimed her arrival.

I think I shall end here because I fear I may never stop. I have said all these things that I think, and I have thought a great deal more that I have not said here, however, I feel it best to state again that despite all these musings the fact remains that my favorite film is Hotel Rwanda for the mere fact that I think it is.




[1] Lacan, J., 2014. The mirror stage as formative of the function of the I as revealed in psychoanalytic experience (1949). In ReadingFrench Psychoanalysis (pp. 119-126). Routledge.


[2] Dickinson, E., 1960. Forever–is composed of Nows.”. ThePoems of Emily Dickinson: Reading Edition.


[3] Belfiore, E.S., 2014. Tragic pleasures: Aristotle on plot and emotion. Princeton university press.



[5] Knights, D. and Vurdubakis, T., 1994. Foucault, power, resistance and all that.


[7] Arendt, H., 2004. Eichmann in Jerusalem: A report on the banality of evil (p. 456910). Harmondsworth,, UK: Penguin.


Images courtesy of Financial Times


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