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5 Top Movies Focusing on Humanitarian Issues

In addition to the plethora of compelling documentaries, there is a long list of Hollywood films that dared to portray some of the worst humanitarian crises and human rights violations as integral elements of their plots. The following five, in particular, focus on series of events that happened not so long ago. In fact, the after affects of these crises continue to dramatically impact many individuals, communities, countries, and regions around the world.

Hotel Rwanda

Hotel Rwanda is a famous film starring Don Cheadle, who plays a hotel manager in civil war-era Rwanda. In 1994, tensions between the governing Hutu people and the Tutsi population escalated, causing the country to break into a 100-day period that has come to be known as one of the most tragic genocides in modern history. The Interahamwe, an anti-Tutsi militia, raided cities, towns, and villages across Rwanda, brutally executing those whose physical characteristics or government ID card identified them as ethnically Tutsi. Though UN Peacekeeping forces were deployed to and present in Rwanda during this conflict, they were forbidden from actually intervening in the conflict. Between April and July 1994, it is estimated that between 800,000 and 1,000,000 Rwandans were killed, with over 70% of the country’s Tutsi population being murdered. It is impossible to know the exact count, as refugees were often mowed down in the streets and fields while trying to flee the Hutu forces, which is honestly yet graphically shown in the film. The ICC (International Criminal Court) was created as a direct response to this genocide in order to prosecute perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Blood Diamond

During the late 1990s, Sierra Leone was torn apart by civil war, engaged in by government soldiers and rebel forces. This acclaimed Hollywood film portrays many of the atrocities of this war, particularly the  use of violence and child soldiers. In the film, one of the main characters is enslaved by the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebel forces, being forced to work in the diamond fields. His son is taken and conscripted into the rebel forces, and the film depicts the extensive brainwashing and traumatic violence that child soldiers are often forced to undergo. The film also focuses on the influence of Anglo mercenaries from other countries who are involved in a black market exchange of diamonds and arms with the RUF. The film also depicts a real-life event that took place in Kimberley, South Africa in 2000. This meeting led to the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme, which certifies the origins of diamonds in attempt to mitigate the trade of diamonds in conflict zones.

Desert Flower

Desert Flower is the autobiographical story of a female Somalian nomad. After being forced to undergo a circumcision at age three and being sold into marriage at 13, she fled from Africa and eventually became a famous supermodel in America. More recently, she has become the delegated United Nations spokeswoman against female genital mutilation. This practice involves the ritual removal of all or some of the external female genitalia, typically in a home with a boxcutter or blunt object. While the practice is found in Asia and the Middle East, it is predominantly associated with the northeast of Africa. UNICEF estimates that there are over 200 million women living today who have undergone this procedure. While there have been ongoing efforts to persuade practitioners to abandon the practice and many countries have outlawed the procedure, the laws are poorly enforced and female genital mutilation is still a painful reality for million of girls around the world.

The Impossible

The Impossible tells the true story of a British expat family who survived the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004. After traveling to Thailand to spend Christmas, the family are separated when the massive wave begins its destruction. This natural disaster devastated the coastlines of several countries across South and Southeast Asia. At least 225,000 people were killed, and the countries sustained massive damages to infrastructure, agriculture, environment, and economy. It was one of the most severe humanitarian crises of the 2000s, with millions of people lacking clean water, food, shelter, and crucial medical treatment. Relief workers struggled to deal with the large numbers of missing people and casualties, as well as with providing supplies to remote areas.

The Last King of Scotland

This film is a historical drama based on the novel by Giles Foden. Though the plot is largely fictional, the film as a whole is based around terrifying events that occurred under Idi Amin’s rule. Idi Aim became president of Uganda in 1971 after overthrowing Milton Obote; he held on to this title, largely through intimidation, military force, and mass killing, until 1979. Known to give himself outlandish imperial-style titles, he is known for leading a brutal regime and committing countless crimes against humanity while in power. He lived a life of luxury and lavishness while the Ugandan economy collapsed, causing mass hunger and poverty across the country. He was overthrown in 1979 and fled the country.