Monday, November 26, 2007

Beyond Hollywood's Rwanda

Posted By on Mon, Nov 26, 2007 at 9:03 PM

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Paul Rusesabagina being presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom

(photo by Paul Morse)

Tuesday night, Emory University hosts the event Beyond Hollywood's Rwanda: Truth and Justice, Security and Development to counter Paul Rusesabagina's (the supposed hero of Hotel Rwanda fame) controversial visit last month.

When it comes to conflict in post-colonial Africa, the issues of military intervention and humanitarian efforts are always many-sided. African conflicts do not exist isolated from external forces; African history is too inextricably tied to external actors for that to ever be the case. The issue then isn't whether or not outsiders intervene, but how intervention should be handled.

When Hollywood takes on violence in Africa, what begin as honestly good intentions often lead to overly simplistic and even blatantly wrong portrayals of the situation. Movies such as Darfur Now and Hotel Rwanda want to bring American attention to the long-ignored atrocities committed in Rwanda during the '90s and in Darfur today -- parts of the world many Americans know nothing about.

Despite this genuine wish to do good, in the case of Hotel Rwanda, the story of Paul Rusesabagina and his celebrated efforts during the Rwandan genocide is now being virulently protested as a Hollywood falsehood by those who were there when it happened. While the movie paints Rusesabagina to Rwanda as Spielberg's Schindler was to the Holocaust, he was denounced by columnist Job Jabiro from Rwanda's New Times daily as a "publicity hound, genocide revisionist, promoter of ethnic hate speech" who was "shamelessly banking on the genocide and endangering the survivors." (See Curt Holman's 2005 review of Hotel Rwanda here.)

Amid controversy, Emory University welcomed Rusesabagina to speak on campus for the State of Race event last month. Now, to counter this event and address protest, the university is hosting tomorrow night's event, which brings together diplomats, genocide survivors and academics moderated by CNN's Jim Clancey to discuss the events that led to the 1994 genocide and the ongoing efforts to bring the perpetrators to justice.

People are smart enough to understand the issues as they actually exist, and it is vital that we continue to try to educate and spread information about African conflicts. It just means taking the time to look past the simplicity of a T-shirt slogan or a Hollywood hero to fully appreciate the complexities of the situation.

Tues., Nov. 27. 6-8 p.m. Glenn Memorial Auditorium, Emory University. Free. Tickets available at DUC information desk, Rollins School of Public Health, Emory School of Law, and other locations. Information at www. rzhrg.com.

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