Sunday, March 06, 2005
One of the minor bugs in HR was that nearly all the Africans in it look like generic Africans--which is understandable, given that the movie was filmed not in Rwanda but in South Africa. That's a problem because what facilitated the genocide in Rwanda was that Hutus and Tutsis tend to look noticeably different from each other, and it hurt the accuracy of the movie that you couldn't tell the two ethnicities apart. Don Cheadle's family looked Tutsi, but everyone else looks largely the same.
I had a similar problem with the otherwise terrific Black Hawk Down, which was filmed in Morocco and therefore is full of Somalis who look nothing like Somalis. An analogy would be a movie about the Sicilian Mafia with an all-Norwegian cast.
Now, part of the point of the film was that, because of centuries of intermarriage, it was frequently difficult to tell Hutu from Tutsi, and the ethnic divide between the two groups was all a creation of the evil European colonialists etc etc etc. The film shoved this belief down our throats, but I was skeptical.
I was skeptical because--and I don't have the figures in front of me--several hundred thousand people were killed in a few weeks, nearly all by machetes. My point is that it beggars credulity that the killers went around asking 400,000 people for their ID cards to determine if they should be killed or not. There had to be a quick, immediate way for the killers to tell the two groups apart, and I submit that it can't be that difficult for a native Rwandan to tell who is Hutu and who is Tutsi on sight.
I also got the feeling that HR wanted to be anti-American but it really couldn't pull it off without becoming dishonest. The genocide in Rwanda was the failure of a lot of people, but blame has to start with Africa, and with Europe, specifically the Belgians, who were much more familiar with the territory.
The other problem for the filmmakers is that the President at the time was the sainted Bill Clinton, so any anti-Americanism must be generalized. (Another example of this would be the alteration of the captioning at the beginning of Black Hawk Down to remove the word "Clinton.") It requires a particularly horrendous bit of rhetorical torture to blame America without blaming Clinton, so the film wisely keeps more or less quiet on the subject. The bizarre belief that one hears occasionally in the fever-swamps of the Left--that the Hutu President's plane was shot down by "missiles confiscated from Saddam Hussein by the Americans"--requires us to believe that this all took place behind Bill Clinton’s back.
One of the film’s few direct references to the United States never mentions the USA at all; it’s when the characters in the hotel listen incredulously to a dimwitted American woman babbling about the meaning of the term “genocide” to a group of questioners. I haven't seen any confirmation of who the person speaking is; I am pretty sure that it was Dee Dee Myers’s actual voice from an actual White House press conference, but it's never identified as such, or as anyone in particular.
For all that, I still liked the film, with the usual political reservations.