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Through a Lens Darkly

Films of Genocide and Ethnic Cleansing

John J. Michalczyk and SJ Raymond G. Helmick

While the ashes of the Holocaust were still fresh, Polish Jewish attorney Raphael Lemkin put a name to the tragedy that had decimated his family – genocide. The twentieth century was brutally scarred by the massive scale of genocide and its manifest forms of ethnic cleansing, massacres, and atrocities. We ask how these horrors can be visually translated to the screen while both maintaining their authenticity and serving as commercial «entertainment». Through an analysis of a series of poignant films on the plight of the Native Americans, the controversial Armenian genocide, the Holocaust and its legacy, the killing fields of Cambodia, and the Hutu-sponsored massacres in Rwanda, the reader can grasp the driving mechanisms of genocide and ethnic cleansing. The oft-repeated, «Never again» rings hollow to our ears in the wake of these tragedies in a post-Holocaust era. The films discussed here, both features and documentaries, are set in an historical context that sheds light on the dark side of humanity and are then discussed with the hope of better understanding our frailty. In the end, however, we ask can the «unrepresentable» ever be represented?
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Rwanda: Where the Genocidal Devil Ran So Wild: John H. Stanfield, II


John H. Stanfield, II

The 1994 Rwandan Genocide against the Tutsis, planned and carried out by an extremist Hutu sect in the national government, actually began with Belgian colonial rule over that Central and East African society after WWI. It is now common knowledge that during the time between WWI and WWII, the Belgian racialization of the Hutus and Tutsis and their design and implementation of ID cards for a largely physically non-distinctive population with extensive historical intermixture and very much the same culture would set in concrete the foundations of what would become, after independence in the early 1960s, a long term Hutu extremist genocidal apartheid nation-state.

Before the Belgians, being Tutsi or Hutu had nothing to do with physical appearance such as what these colonizers would claim about “the superior tall and slender” Tutsis, who were the most privileged cattle-owning group and “the inferior short and stout Hutus,” who worked in the fields. Being Tutsi and Hutu was a matter of how many cattle a family owned, ten or more meant that one was a Tutsi and less were Hutus. Also, if a man did well in battle for a King who was of Hutu status, he was considered to be a Tutsi. As a common divide-and-conquer colonizing strategy, the Belgians racialized these two groups, intensifying resentment among the groups. In the 1930s and 1940s, this race-making and this breeding of Hutu resentment towards Tutsis was largely done in the political sphere of colonial...

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