Shades of True: Female Perpetrators of the Rwandan Genocide

Longstanding divisive struggles between the Tutsis and Hutus resulted in mass killings, during which many of the Hutu majority took up arms and killed members of the Tutsi tribe. Hutu women as well as men killed their Tutsi neighbours and took commanding roles within armed groups. Shades of True looks at the lives of eight imprisoned female Hutus as they recall their involvement in genocide.

In particular, the film reveals a torn relationship between a mother and son, Immaculae and Jerome, after the mother killed her son’s Tutsi father and extended family during the genocide. “What is dirty will never again regain its purity,” says her son, who is taunted mercilessly at school by students who cannot understand his particular sense of mourning.

In a discussion following the screening, director Alexandre Westphal explained that he originally travelled to Rwanda in order to investigate the stories behind those who had been imprisoned for their role in the genocide.

“When we first started to think about the movie, we thought about where we could find a place for the people who were gone because of the genocide, who died because of it, and for the survivors also. But we didn’t want to impose two memories of the perpetrators and of the victims, and to confront two different types of speech, so we started to think of more simple ways to represent genocide,” said Westphal.

The film was screened in Rwanda, where it received mixed reactions. Westphal told an audience at the Frontline Club that although the film’s subjects found it difficult to watch, it revealed to them other elements of the story. Westphal also commented on the therapeutic value of the film for young Jerome, whose Tutsi father had been murdered in 1994.

An audience member commented on the film’s foregrounding of the Rwandan landscape, as Shades of True includes shots of beautiful scenery alongside horrific recollections of mass killings. Westphal responded:

“We started to think of more simple ways to represent the genocide, and to let the spectators imagine what could have happened in these spaces. [These images were] mostly a way to represent the places where the genocide happened, and to show what is still there today…. because, except for the memories of Rwandans, there is nothing in the landscape that could indicate that genocide was there.”