Unfortunately, the screenplay aims at self-absorbed white liberals who think all Africans look alike and that white racism is the root of all evil. The script even claims that it’s merely a white myth that Tutsis tend to be taller than Hutus, asserting that the Belgian imperialists arbitrarily assigned those identities to random Rwandans. Yet, soon the Hutu Power radio station is broadcasting the prearranged code to begin exterminating the Tutsis: “Cut down the tall trees.”
Rwanda’s true history is more instructive. The medium-height Bantu Hutu farmers arrived 2,000 years ago and drove the pygmoid hunter-gatherer Twa into the forests. Then, about the time of Cortez, the tall, slender Tutsi herdsmen invaded from the north and, according to Gary Brecher, the acerbic “War Nerd” columnist, “claimed all the land, on the legal basis that if you objected they’d kill you.”
The Tutsi rulers treated the Hutu peasantry with the same contempt the Norman lords display toward the Saxon yeomen in Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe. Commenting on Rwanda’s “indigenous racism,” Congo-born sociologist Pierre L. van den Berghe reported that the Tutsis, like other aristocracies, saw themselves as “astute in political intrigue, born to command, refined, courageous, and cruel.”
The Tutsi ascendancy resembled the white pre-eminence in Latin America. Intermarriage was frequent, yet physical differences between the classes endured, just as they have in Mexico, where despite five centuries of intermarrying, the elite remains much taller and fairer than the masses. The trick is that Mexico’s most successful short, dark men often wed tall, blonde women and have more European-looking offspring, thus replenishing the caste system.
Likewise, in “Hotel Rwanda,” Cheadle’s ultra-competent Hutu executive is married to a Tutsi beauty who is taller and fairer than he is. (She’s played by Sophie Okonedo, whose mother is a Jewish Englishwoman.)