What Audiences (Could) Learn about Genocide from Historical Dramas
Many people derive their historical knowledge from movies. This chapter addresses this issue through a discussion of fictional films about the Holocaust and the Rwandan genocide. Historical dramas frequently offer up tales of good versus evil that reassure viewers about their moral place in the world, as in the ‘one good man’ motif exemplified in Schindler’s List (1993). Though academic criticism has critiqued these tendencies, it also has a predominantly moralistic outlook, preoccupied with taboos and limits. This chapter argues that such moralism, which presents perpetrators as antithetical to everything that we, the viewers, stand for, impedes ethical reflection. Inspired by Hannah Arendt’s philosophy, it attempts to shift the debate by investigating how films enable or prevent insights into how genocide happens through the wider population’s complicity. It elaborates Arendt’s ‘boomerang thesis’, which questions traditional interpretations of the Holocaust as a ‘unique’ event, suggesting links between colonialism, the Holocaust and contemporary atrocities, and applies these insights in its readings of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (2008), Hotel Rwanda (2004), Sometimes in April (2005) and The Night of Truth (2004).
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