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'God Sleeps in Rwanda' Nominated for Oscar

ED GORDON, host:

I'm Ed Gordon and this is NEWS AND NOTES. After the 1994 Rwandan genocide, the women in that country found themselves outnumbering their men by 70 percent. Thousands were victims of mutilation or rape. There was also the rampant spread of HIV/AIDS. Still, the women of Rwanda were faced with piecing together a new society that would go beyond what the country had been in the days prior to the genocide. A new documentary spotlights the lives of five of these women. The film is called God Sleeps in Rwanda.

Ms. ODE KUCARERA(ph) (Rwandan Genocide Survivor): My name is Ode Kucarera. I have four children to look after. One is an orphan. Her mother was my sister. She was killed with all in my family. I look after her.

GORDON: The film is co-directed by Stacy Sherman and Kimberlee Acquaro. The documentary is also up for an Academy Award this Sunday. NPR's Farai Chideya sat down with Acquaro to talk about the film.

FARAI CHIDEYA, reporting:

There's so many amazing women and girls in this movie. Tell us about the police officer?

Ms. KIMBERLEE ACQUARO (Director of God Sleeps in Rwanda): Odat(ph) is really one of the stories that speaks very strongly to anyone that sees the film. She is such a portrait of strength and courage. She lost her husband, but not during the genocide. He died of AIDS and had affected her. And Odat speaks out about having AIDS, which is very usual for women in Rwanda. She braves stigmatization and discrimination, and works to help herself and also other people living with AIDS in Africa.

CHIDEYA: And she has a child in the documentary, we learn is also HIV positive. She said you can't get medicine for her child. And I think that anyone who sees the documentary will be moved by that statement. Can you give us an update? I know that all these documentaries takes place in a moment in time. What's happened to her since then?

Ms. ACQUARO: Well, actually Odat's story has come a long way. Someone who saw the film, was very moved and wanted to support her son, and has been providing the money for AIDS medication for him. Odat's doing very well, because she does receive AIDS medication. And on a happy note, a man was in a car accident, came into the police station, met Odat, they fell in love, and now she's married.

CHIDEYA: That's amazing.

Ms. ACQUARO: It's really wonderful.

CHIDEYA: Not everyone who has a role in your film has had such a happy ending. you have the story of Fifi(ph), who passed away, who is on the cover of the DVD version of your movie. Tell us what happened to her that was so emblematic of what happened in Rwanda.

Ms. ACQUARO: Well, Fifi was 16 during the genocide, and she was kept and gang raped repeatedly for months by the [unintelligible]. And like many women who were raped during the genocide, found out later that she was HIV positive. When I first met Fifi, she was beautiful, vital, and although she was sick, the disease hadn't progressed. And she said to me, I'll die of loneliness before I die of AIDS. We were able through support of some people who had seen the film, to move her from this little shack she lived in, we had some distant relatives' houses where no one would check on her, no one would take care of her, into a home with electricity and running water, near her friends. And so they were able to care for her until, sadly, she died on Valentine's Day in 2003 from the disease.

CHIDEYA: How common was rape as a tool during the genocide?

Ms. ACQUARO: It was one of the main strategies of the genocide. It was used against women for many reasons, one being that women represented the future of an entire people. And so their bodies were targeted with rape. They were also left pregnant from the rapes. Many have contracted HIV and are just now beginning to die. And because of that, the genocide's death toll continues to rise to this day. The U.N. Special Commission on Human Right has estimated that 250,000 women were raped during the genocide. But of course, it's impossible to know.

CHIDEYA: And one of the more incredible moments in your film is seeing a woman being indicted for rape as part of the genocide trials that continue. What is that story?

Ms. ACQUARO: Well, Pauline Nyiramasuhuko was the minister of women and family during the genocide, one of the few women in government at that time. And she and her son, Shalom are indicted for rape as a war crime. And Pauline Nyiramasuhuko is the first woman ever indicted for genocide, and only the second person ever indicted for rape as a war crime. That is a new international legislation that has set precedence for trials in the Hague and for other trials where a leader is held responsible for inciting, ordering, or allowing rape under their supervision.

CHIDEYA: Why did you go back after the genocide to do this film?

Ms. ACQUARO: When I read that the country was left 70 percent female, and when I learned that women were working together hand in hand, Hutu and Tutsi, to do things they had never done in their lives, to learn to read, to build schools for their children, to start businesses, I was very impressed. And when I went and I meet the survivors, I was even more inspired. Before the genocide, boys outnumbered girls in school by 9 to 1. Today, they're in school in equal numbers. Women were barely five percent of the government. Today, they are almost 50 percent of the Parliament, which is the highest in the world. So, there have been significant strides, and both personally and politically, women have changed their country. And it just become more than a film to both of us. We didn't dream at the beginning that it would receive an Academy Award. But all of this attention is just shining more light on this really deserving story.

CHIDEYA: Kimberlee Acquaro is co-director of God Sleeps in Rwanda, which has been nominated for an Oscar in the short documentary category. The Academy Awards will be held on March 5 here is Los Angeles. Thank you so much.

Ms. ACQUARO: Thank you.

GORDON: That was NPR's Farai Chideya. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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