Hotel Rwanda Ethics Film Review

moviesAn examination and cultural analysis of the life circumstances of Paul Rusesabagina, as depicted in the film “Hotel Rwanda,” proves that varying a person’s responsibility can result in life changing consequences. The tools used in this analysis include: role assessment, ethical dilemma analysis, teleological outlook, and threshold tests. Rusesabagina’s finite hotel and family life responsibilities warp into a huge ethical dilemma that impacts his family, his community, and his personal integrity. His rather simple responsibilities evolve into great responsibilities and trigger a metamorphosis. The first tool used “assesses roles using Role Diagnosis” (Lewis 314).

In role diagnosis, “begin by assessing the roles you play and the seriousness of competing ethical claims” (314). The top priorities in Baird’s cone pyramid are personal, family, and community. The second tier is professional and work ID. The model descends with five tiers to encompass what individuals reach for including agency and job, jurisdiction and citizen, and lastly humanity, sustainability, and legacy. “The responsibilities tend to be broad, even diffuse; obligations, if only for enforcement purposes, tend to be narrow and clearly defined” (31). In assessing the role Rusesabagina plays, there are very serious ethical claims. When he chooses to harbor his neighbors, he chose to risk his job that was life sustaining and most likely not ever going to be available to him again. The Baird figure says priority goes to personal, family and community with a small reach, but for Rusesabagina the community reach extends. The involvement of genocide in Paul’s immediate community changed his responsibility. There were very serious ethical claims in this instance.

At the onset of the film, Rusesabagina is introduced and his role defined. He is a hotel employee in a poor country. He is very loyal and seems indoctrinated to respect his hotel company above all else. He influences his wealthy hotel guests and community law enforcement agents with bribes; this is standard procedure in Rwanda. His ability to provide people with coveted things, such as Cuban cigars, separates him from others because rich people who cannot be influenced by money are influenced by hard to obtain things (Movie). Rusesabagina’s ego appears intact as he continues to believe he can influence others and he has faith that his wealthy employer will continue to provide a safe haven for he and his people. In participating in the typical corrupt atmosphere, even on this rather simplistic level, his personal integrity is compromised. As the political atmosphere deteriorates, he transforms from a relatively benign worker, with an average commitment to his family’s well being, to a person of hero status.

His role changes, his responsibilities change, and he evolves and holds himself accountable to the public with a personal commitment beyond the law and reveals himself to be a person of respect because of the way he treats all people with dignity. He has responsible stewardship of materials necessary to provide for the basic needs of his hotel community. He is brave when confronted with the choice to abandon his people and save himself or continue his efforts to uphold people’s trust and their leader.

The question of the degree of helping work, family, and community all fall under an ethical dilemma. “Ethics is about decisive action that is rooted in moral values in terms of  moral principles, right results, or both” (313). Measuring the degree in which an individual helps his family and or his community includes looking at the outcome that results from a person’s participation. Some of the Paul Rusesabagina’s ethical dilemmas include “Should I take command, or give up?,” “Should I stay and defend, or hide?,” “Should I just fend for myself or should I take responsibility for my family and community?” His degree of helping goes from unremarkable helping to fearless bravery while standing up for what is just.

Rusesabagina had responsibilities as an employee of the Michelin Hotel. His staunch loyalty to this organization would be considered typical in a poor country where jobs are very scarce. According to The Ethics Challenge in Public Service, in ranking responsibilities there are four different ideas pertaining to difference between the obligation and the responsibility of helping. Rusesabagina did no harm, so he was not obligated to help anyone but himself and his family while performing his basic hotel duties. His responsibility to his community depends on the Lewis and Gilman’s Threshold Test. The Threshold Test asks about the vulnerability, proximity, capability, and dependency of the situation. In this case, the lives of the community were at stake and in immediate danger. Rusesabagina had the ability to bring people to his hotel with a minimum amount of risk. If he did not help them, they surely would lose their lives. He was responsible to help the people of his community according to the Threshold Test.

Rusesabagina’s responsibility increases from that of a father of a small family and hotel employee to neighborhood leader, hotel manager, and hero. His community responsibility trumps his work responsibility. Using the teleological outlook, Rusesabagina’s responsibility is examined. The ethical worth of his decision is determined by the impact of what he did. The way he decided his actions was by looking at the consequence of his action. He did not have the luxury of time before deciding how to proceed with the situation at hand. All he knew was that the consequence of not helping meant that people would be massacred.

Using commonsense helps guide action and decision-making as most individuals attest. “We make most of our ethical choices this way: in the pit of our stomach, automatically, reflexively, intuitively in the popular sense, by common sense” (122). The clean-cut commonsense choice for Rusesabagina was to harbor the orphans, continue to coerce the police into guarding the hotel, and send his wife and children away even if he needed to stay behind to lead the remaining people. Denying his wife a say in her own fate was controversial. Other people may consider many “commonsense” ethical decisions not so clean-cut. Something that might influence a person’s view concerning what is reasonable depends on their perspective that may be based on their upbringing, moral training, religious beliefs, or cultural influences. Euthanasia, Abortion, capitol punishment may be viewed dramatically differently depending on what some may call “commonsense.” This guide to decision-making is a weak guide, unlike the more sophisticated tools available to individuals and public figures. Rusesabagina’s increase in responsibility resulted in him having to make commonsense decisions. The prospect of genocide is so dramatic, who among people would have disagreed with his choices?

The Threshold Test is another tool that is designed for “dealing with problems others cause” (317). The questions asked include is there “vulnerability; potential injury, risk to the affected party?” (317). In Rosesabagina’s situation, the answer is a definite principled yes. Is the requirement of “proximity” met? The perpetration of the crimes were “known” to him, he had “access” to the hotel in order to protect the people. As manager, he had the authority to house the people and do things such as remove room numbers, erase billing information, and provide free services to people. He was “competent” and the span of his control, although stretched to the limit, allowed him “access” to safety deposit boxed with money and valuables used to promote his cause. He had “access” to the owner of the hotel who contacted the Belgium government and ultimately bought some additional time for the people. He also had “access” to the local leaders of the United Nations and he learned a great deal about the position Rwanda held on the world scene and the lack of importance it held. Rosesabagina’s “span of control“ was limited to his small group, not the world stage. The Threshold Test also questions capability. He is able capable and the risks, dangers, and liability resulting from doing nothing outweigh the “risk, danger, and liability”(317) from harboring the people in attempt to save them from genocide. He is the most capable and influential person on the scene at the moment when people need help. He can use trickery to get his way with the local policemen even if it means lying to him about satellite surveillance. He is capable of getting food because he knows how to bribe the local food vendors, he is capable of seeing the prejudice, hatred, and injustice in all these matters. The Dependency of the people is very great; they have “no place else to turn” (317). This criteria is met simply because the people literally had no place else to turn but to the Hotel. The orphans were delivers to the hotel when the United Nations were scheduled to evacuate them, but ended up being rejected because they were African while the Europeans were allowed to leave. They were dependent on Rosesabagina’s staff when the orphanage staff, mostly white workers, were evacuated. “The weak or needy with few options or advocates” (317) were certainly the orphans in addition to the neighborhood people. There was a “low probability or alternative remedies or services” (317) in this case as each organization refused to help. The dramatic evacuation of the European and American communities, without a promise for even later intervention for Rwanda, was shocking. The United Nation’s leader’s words with Rosesabagina in reference to Rwanda’s land of position on the world scene was sickening. “all the West… all the super powers think you are dirt… you are not even a _____, you are African” (movie) proved there would not be any help forthcoming. Each of the four criteria for the Threshold Test have been met and surpassed.

As Rosesabagina’s level of involvement and responsibility increased, his life changed. Basic access to the hotel was almost inevitable but what he did to coast the people of the world was stunning and remarkably influential. He asked his people to contact their friends and family around the world to “tell them what will happen—say goodbye… if they let go of your hand, you will die… we must shame them into helping us” (movie). Here is Rosesabagina’s most pronounced endeavors to lead. The evacuation of his people, who eventually got visas from the outside, was aborted and some of the people injured. The deed of motivating people to action enhanced Rosesabagina as a human being. He took “decisive action” and “publicly defended the cause” (313) of Rwanda.

Summer 2010