Films of Genocide and Ethnic Cleansing
Saviors and Survivors: Western Passivity, African Resistance, and the Politics of Genocide in Hotel Rwanda (2004): Zine Magubane
The notion that the West has a unique responsibility to civilize and “save” Africa has its genesis in the slave trade, colonialism, and the “scramble” for Africa. The “White Man’s Burden” is an enduring trope in cinematic and political life. Political scientist Mahmood Mamdani has speculated that American interest in “saving Africa” is motivated partly by the fact “Americans can feel themselves to be…powerful saviors” there.1 This fact has both political and cinematic consequences. According to Terry George, co-author of the Hotel Rwanda screenplay, “Hollywood has no interest in African topics. Such films don’t get made.”2 The reluctance that George describes, combined with the “White Man’s Burden” mentality, has resulted in many films dealing with Africa and/or African Americans featuring White protagonists cast as heroes whose lives move plot lines (and history) forward. Notable examples of this include Cry Freedom (1987), which was ostensibly about South African freedom fighter Steve Biko (played by Denzel Washington) but actually centered on the White journalist Donald Wood (played by Kevin Kline), and Mississippi Burning (1988), which purported to be about the Civil Rights movement, but focused on two White fictional FBI agents (played by Gene Hackman and Willem Dafoe) and portrayed Black Americans as passive victims.
In making Hotel Rwanda, George deliberately set out to reverse this trend by portraying Africans as active agents in resisting genocide and the West as passive onlookers who stood callously watching the violence unfold. The film dramatizes the experience...
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