Cassandra Freeman discusses “KINYARWANDA” with Vibe Vixen
Posted by on Nov 30, 2011

Cassandra FreemanOn December 2, the African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement‘s second film, “KINYARWANDA” hit’s theaters in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Washington D.C., and Seattle. The 2011 Sundance Audience Award winning film interweaves six different stories that took place during the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Although, a horrific historical event takes place the film surprisingly warms hearts. Directed by Alrick Brown, the movie embodies a great sense of forgiveness during an atrocity. Cassandra Freeman who has also starred in movies such as Spike Lee’s “Inside Man” and Chris Rock’s “I Think I Love My Wife” portrayed the role of Lt. Rose, based on Rose Kabuye. Vibe Vixen had a chance to talk with Rose about “KINYARWANDA” , the importance of storytelling and why people should support this film.

What made you agree to taking on this role as Lt. Rose?

Well, I’m a fan of Alrick Brown. We both went to NYU for school. I was there for acting and he was there for directing. When I read the script it was just beautiful. It read like poetry. Everything just came together.

What was it like shooting in Rwanda?

I always wanted to have my out of Africa moment and this is definitely it. Rwanda is gorgeous! The landscape and the people are beautiful. They look like they can be related to me. It’s so phenomenal. It was also extremely difficult because we were there during the rain season.

What was it like only having 16 days to shoot?

It was so intense. From the photographer to the sound person, it took all of us. We were shooting all day and all night. We used every single drop of sun. It was extremely ambitious and overwhelming. With great courage comes great reward and that’s what this movie is. It’s a very courageous act.

With your character Lt. Rose you portrayed someone who was strong, intelligent, and compassionate. At the screening, the director said that your character represented a number of women soldiers. Did you have a chance to talk to an actual soldier or any woman at all that was of aid to Tutsi people? 

My role was loosely based off of many women, mainly Rose Kabuye. That’s whom I attached myself to. She’s like Martin Luther King Jr. there in Rwanda. She was the lieutenant of the RPF. I got to meet her and she’s fabulous. She’s just this very beautiful and amazing woman. I researched a lot of information about her and she’s a very controversial person. She’s as well known there as Beyoncé is here. At the same time I was listening to Rihanna and Jay-Z’s “Run This Town”. That was my inspiration for her. I felt like every night she was on that field. When I met her during dinner, her phone rang and that was her ringtone.

Lt. Rose

Wow! That’s a crazy coincidence.

Crazy coincidence! I think this whole movie is just beautiful. From me coming aboard to it being completed. It’s not really about the genocide. It’s much more than that. I think it’s such a beautiful message.

Was there anything you learned from this film and this unfortunate part of Rwandan history?

I learned a lot more of the history and how complicated the history is there in that region. I also learned how in American cinema most of the movies are about vengeance. This movie is so different because it’s really just about forgiveness. It made me think differently about the people in my life and how I need to forgive.

It also showed me for the people who worked on the film and behind the camera about how important it is to be fully self-expressive. I even started a non-profit called The Kassandra Arts Project. It’s been really transformational. People really don’t understand how storytelling can transform the people around you as well as your life.

Right. It’s so important, especially as people of color to continue to tell our stories. We need to pass on our history and knowledge.

It’s so true. No matter what your politics are this movie is based on true stories. You could go to Rwanda every year and keep telling more stories and none of them will look alike. They will all probably be inspirational, chilling, thrilling, sad, and everything that this movie is. That’s the story of life in general. You even know as a journalist almost everyone’s story is magnificent. Even the last word of the movie is tell our story.

Deidre Harris, Alrick Brown, Cassandra Freeman and Darren Dean

Deidre Harris, Alrick Brown, Cassandra Freeman and Darren Dean at the Urban World Film Festival 2011

Some of the most touching parts for me during the film were the scenes about the Re-education camps. Here in America if someone commits a crime we pretty much put him or her in jail and throw away the key. I would like to know your thoughts about Re-education camps and that whole philosophy. 

Re-education camps are called Kumchacha there. People basically assemble someone’s backyard with a government official. The thought of it is to be able to tell your story and to give the survivor and the perpetrator both a chance to tell their story. It’s to have the victim or survivor to have the opportunity to forgive that person. If they do, they’re pardoned.

They may or may not go to jail. It’s a process that was put together because they realized that if they tried to prosecute every perpetrator it would take thousands of years. This is a way to expedite the process and start the idea of reconciliation and forgiveness. Otherwise, the country would be torn forever.

Do you think that this is something that could possibly be implemented here in the states?

That’s a great question. I think the philosophy in a country view, it could. Our country is used to the idea of conflict and vengeance. It’s not based on the idea of forgiveness. Troy Davis was a great example. We give the death penalty to people even if there isn’t enough proof that they committed a crime.

I think it would be awesome. Just on the social order of what it is to be American and to be able to have a place where you can actually go forward with reconciliation would transform this country from it’s race relations to it’s politics. The truth is when you see this movie or any movie on the genocide you’ll find out how the media was really a part of pushing the agenda of people being separated and being violent. If we lived in a country where people believed in reconciliation and forgiveness it would be against the law to do any of that.

What was your favorite thing about working on this film?

My favorite thing was to have a Rwandan family and to see what their tradition of family is like. It was so much more unity. That was really transformational for me. It made me think differently about my own family and what the potential of family should be. The family really comes together there. Here in America we’re such an autonomous country. If you get enough money you can have a house and have everything for yourself. It’s not like that there.

Kinyarwanda poster

Are you still in contact with some of the people that you worked with there?

Oh yes! I have like real sisters and brothers at this point. When I go back to Rwanda I stay at a friend’s house who is a journalist there. I still talk to Rose Kabuye. I have people in the Peace Corps who are still there and helped me with my organization.

Where can people find out more about your organization?

Some people tend to turn a blind eye to things that don’t or have not directly affected them. So for someone who has no connection to Rwanda at all what would be a good reason to see this film?

A good reason would be to see if there is actually another way to deal with conflict in their life. This movie is a great experiment. Most people feel like it’s so unbelievable and that it can’t be true. It’s a great love story in there too.

It’s also black people coming to save the day. A lot of people talk about how there isn’t any movie that show’s that. This movie is a great shout out to the possibility about what black people can do. This movie is really about how black people saved black people. It’s still Ghanaians. They’re not white Ghanaians or white people from England. It’s another part of our history that we have to know. It’s just a great movie.

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