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Cinema of the Dark SideAtrocity and the Ethics of Film Spectatorship$
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Shohini Chaudhuri

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780748642632

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: September 2015

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9780748642632.001.0001

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History Lessons

History Lessons

What Audiences (Could) Learn about Genocide from Historical Dramas

(p.50) Chapter 2 History Lessons
Cinema of the Dark Side

Shohini Chaudhuri

Edinburgh University Press

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).

Keywords:   historical drama, genocide, Holocaust, Rwandan genocide, Hannah Arendt, colonialism, Schindler’s List, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, Hotel Rwanda, Sometimes in April, The Night of Truth

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