This is a really tough watch. Milo Rau’s Hate Radio recreates a broadcast by RTLM, the Rwandan radio station that encouraged Hutu extremists to commit genocide in the early 1990s.
It caused a stir when the controversy-courting Swiss-German director debuted it in 2011, and its power is undiminished now as Rau – recently appointed director of NTGent in Belgium – revives it for the mini-festival Same Same But Different.
It’s a remarkably simple concept for such a troubling topic: the audience sits on either side of a glass box, within which is a chillingly unspectacular radio studio. Three presenters and a DJ chat, take calls, and play music for an hour, relentlessly spewing violently racist propaganda throughout. Tutsis are referred to as cockroaches. Massacres are perversely claimed as great victories for the oppressed Hutu majority. Callers – even children – are encouraged to kill.
The stark horror of their conversation is heightened by the calm and casualness of their behaviour (they joke and dance and laugh as they incite extreme ethnic violence) and by the verbatim video monologues of Rwandans remembering the genocide that bookend the broadcast – truly horrific stories of brutality, rape and murder.
The four main performers excel, particularly Diogène Ntarindwa and Sébastien Foucault as besuited show-host Kantano Habimana and scruffy Belgian-emigree Georges Ruggiu respectively – real people, who really said these things live on air.
Same Same But Different is intended to interrogate Belgium’s relationship with Africa and examine the troubled legacy of European colonialism. Hate Radio is a deeply disturbing addition to that conversation.