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Written by: Victoria Alexander | May 3rd, 2012

I’ve been to Rwanda. I have a strong perspective on the genocide.

My advice: Don’t go to Rwanda. In 2007 I toured Rwanda and trekked up a mountain to be in very close physical contact with the mountain gorillas.

They don’t like white people in Rwanda. I found out why and maybe they have a good reason. They still resent the Europeans for colonizing them (and the Germans for the 1904 genocide of 65,000 members of the Herero tribe and making their women sex slaves).

The Rwandans never asked for colonization. Then again, who did? Situated in the heart of Africa, Rwanda escaped the attention of the 19th-century slave traders, so is one of the few African countries whose people were never sold into slavery.

Scholars place the racial hatred between the Tutsi and Hutu solely on the European colonists. The Tutsis were willing collaborators to the Belgian colonization. The Belgians gave the Tutsis privileged positions in politics, education, and business. The Belgians effectively divided Rwanda’s people into two main groups – the Tutsi and the Hutu majority.

When the extreme unfairness of the Tutsis domination finally erupted, the Hutu killers knew who their Tutsi neighbors were and what possessions they could take. In other cases, they used physical characteristics as a guide — the Tutsi were generally taller by the historical 12-centimeter difference, thinner, and with slimmer noses than the shorter, stockier Hutu. The Tutsi, with their more ‘European’ appearance, had been deemed the ‘master race’.

The “master race”. Sounds familiar.

And Rwandans still resent that white people didn’t help stop the 1994 genocide that slaughtered one million Tutsi in 100 days. I learned all this at the Kigali Genocide Memorial Museum. Returning home, I read The Machete Season: The Killers in Rwanda Speak by Jean Hatzfeld (   and When Victims Become Killers: Colonialism, Nativism, and the Genocide in Rwanda by Mahmood Mamdani. ( )

KINYARWANDA brilliantly conveys this unrealistic division of people through weaving six different tales together. The prominent story is of a Tutsi teenager, Jean (Hadidja Zaninka), who slips out at night to go to a party. Leaving the party with a Hutu boy, they pass a group of men surrounding a Tutsi. When Jean returns home she finds her parents have been slaughtered.

With the systematic, state-supported murder of 6 million European Jews by the Nazis during World War II, the world said “Never Again”. So what happened in Rwanda?*

The Machete Season is a shocking and highly descriptive telling of exactly how Hutus – many joyously – killed their Tutsi wives, children, friends and neighbors by swinging machetes. (Photo of a machete attack survivor)

Every day 60 white folks, the daily limit allowed to visit the gorillas, come into Rwanda specifically to visit the mountain gorillas. The local people get none of the revenue.

The hostility was obvious. Walking into town, our group was spit at, had rocks thrown at them, and three people were intentionally ran off the road by trucks attempting to hit them. We did not go into town again but stayed at our campsite at Centre Pastoral Notre Dame De Fatima where I attended Mass. Our Kenyan support staff refused to go into town.

We were greeted with shouts of “Here comes the white man.”

A substantial number of women, and even girls, were involved in the slaughter, inflicting extraordinary cruelty on other women, men, and well over 800 children. Women of every social category took part in the killings. The extent to which women were involved in the killings is unprecedented anywhere in the world. Some women killed with their own hands.

The “low-tech” means by which the killing was carried out — the murderers used machetes or hoes — required the involvement of a large proportion of the Hutu population. Videotapes of the killings show that three or more killers often hacked on a single victim.

There were many more killers than victims.

When the genocide ended approximately two million Hutus, participants in the genocide, and the bystanders, with anticipation of Tutsi retaliation, fled from Rwanda. Eventually, over a million returned. How many Hutus were charged with murder in the genocide? In 1998, twenty-two people were executed in public for their role in the massacre.

Rwanda – by the numbers – is a country of killers.

Based on the above, I can say that Alrick Brown’s KINYARWANDA is accurate without being “torture porn”. Could you imagine actually seeing people hacked to death by a meandering, but well organized gang of men, women, and children? Yes, children.

According to the books I read, children assisted their parents in the atrocities. Kinyarwanda does show a child revealing the location of Tutsis to the killers.

KINYARWANDA focuses on two religious leaders, a priest and a Muslim cleric. Should the Muslim community give refuge to the victimized Tutsis in their mosques?  When one Tutsi mentions going to the Hotel Rwanda, we hear that the manager only accepted Tutsis with money!

After reading The Machete Season: The Killers in Rwanda Speak I actually thought the director had found killers willing to talk on camera! Brown stages several scenes in a re-education camp where Hutus confesses their crimes. This is the most emotionally riveting scenes in the film.

According to the books I read, the Catholic clergy quickly fled the country in anticipation of the massacre. Brown does not mention this. Instead he focuses on the Mufti of Rwanda, the highest Muslim leader in the country, who issued a fatwa forbidding Muslims from participating in the killing of the Tutsi. As the country became a slaughterhouse, the film recounts how the Imams opened the doors of the mosques to give refuge to the Tutsi and those Hutu who refused to participate in the killing.

The DVD, which is available on May 15th, comes with special features, cast and crew commentary, the Making of Kinyarwanda, a featurette, galleries, the shooting script and more.

*As Mahmood Mamdani points out, “Unlike the Nazi Holocaust, the Rwandan genocide was not carried out from a distance, in remote concentration camps beyond national borders, in industrial killing camps operated by agents who often did no more than drop Zyklon B crystals into gas chambers from above. The Rwandan genocide was executed with the slash of machetes rather than the drop of crystals, with all the gruesome detail of a street murder rather than the bureaucratic efficiency of a mass extermination.”

Mamdani continues: “The technology of the holocaust allowed a few to kill many, but the machete had to be wielded by a single pair of hands. It required not one but many hacks of a machete to kill even one person. With a machete, killing was hard work and that is why there were often several killers for every single victim. Whereas Nazis made every attempt to separate victims from perpetrators, the Rwandan genocide was very much an intimate affair. It was carried out by hundreds of thousands, perhaps even more, and witnessed by millions.”

Victoria Alexander is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association: and the Las Vegas Film Critics Society: Victoria’s weekly column, “The Devil’s Hammer,” is posted every Monday.


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Member of Las Vegas Film Critics Society: Victoria Alexander lives in Las Vegas, Nevada, and answers every email at For a complete list of Victoria Alexander's movie reviews on Rotten Tomatoes go to: Victoria Alexander contributes to Films in Review (, Film Festival Today ( and Las Vegas Informer (

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