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Cassandra Freeman  has Rihanna to thank for tapping into her inner superwoman for Kinyarwanda.  “I would listen to ‘Run This Town’  to get into character” the actress shares. Freeman plays Lt. Rose, a tough as nails soldier, whose mission is to protect a group of refugees during the height of the Rwandan genocide.   The character is based on real life freedom fighter Rose Kabuye, who as luck would have it, is also a huge fan of RiRi. “We met for dinner one night and when her cell phone went off, the ring tone was ‘Run This Town!”

The Urban Daily caught up with Freeman to discuss the themes of faith and forgiveness in Kinyarwanda, the lack of women in leadership positions on the big screen, and why the African-American community should support this movie.

TUD: Tell us about your character Lt. Rose.

She’s  loosely based on many people, but mainly based on Rose Kabuye.  She’s like the Martin Luther King Jr.  of Rwanda.  She is known for ending the genocide.  My character becomes a counselor at the reconciliation camps.

How familiar were you with the events of the Rwandan genocide before filming the movie?

Like many Americans, my knowledge came from watching Hotel Rwanda. Once I got the role I saw Shooting Dogs and “Sometimes in April.” Once I got to Rwanda, all of that changed.

What kind of preparation went into creating this character?

A month before I left for Rwanda, I worked with a dialect coach at NYU.  Thankfully Rose has a mostly British accent with an African undertone, which I could do all day long.  There was also a ton of information about Rose, and some videos online.  I actually lived with a Rwandan family and I was able to submerse myself in the culture.  They taught me to speak Kinyarwandan.

What I found interesting about Lt. Rose was that she was in a leadership position, and that the male soldiers under her command never made an issue of her being a woman.  Why are we not seeing this reflected in Hollywood?

If you do see a woman in charge, it’s usually in a sci-fi movie like Sigourney Weaver in Aliens.  When I spoke to Rose, she said her gender was never an issue with the soldiers.  If you look at history, whenever a country is in crisis, people will turn to those they’ve never turned to before.  Take this country for example.  People were willing to vote for Obama and go on a leap of faith. The same thing has happened in Liberia, where they have their first woman president.

Compared to other movies that look at the Rwandan genocide from a political perspective, this movie is heavily faith based.  What did you take away from this movie from a spiritual or faith based perspective?

What I loved about this movie is that you see how they get to save themselves through the use of the reconciliation camps.  If they hadn’t done that, it would have taken them years to prosecute those who took part in the genocide and they’d probably still be at war.  The themes of forgiveness and reconciliation really changed my life.  It made me think of what I’ve been holding on to. Working with the children and some of the actors I saw that even though they can forgive and move on, it can also make them very suppressed, which is why I founded the Kassandra Arts Project. It’s a camp that teaches artistic empowerment.

Do you think there are any lessons the American government can learn from the Rwandan genocide as far as their international diplomacy?

American politics are so different–our country doesn’t really believe in human rights, which is why we still have something as barbaric as the death penalty.  If we’re still holding on to that, it will be hard for us to change. Rwanda took on the idea of forgiveness as a form of diplomacy.  America doesn’t really believe in forgiveness anymore more than the film industry.  In most movies it’s about revenge and the military is the same way when it comes to war.  If we adopted the policy of reconciliation, it would save us billions of dollars.

When it comes to Africans and African-Americans, there seems to be a cultural disconnect.  What would you say to an African-American moviegoer who thinks Kinyarwanda has nothing to do with them?

I think people would be very surprised at all the similar parallels the African-American community has with Rwanda.  I think we’d also be surprised at how the war started, and how the media and political parties tore their country apart. For instance, if you look at The Republic of Congo, it’s being raped for its natural resources the same way our kids here are being deprived of an education.  The only education they’re getting is learning how to sing or how to throw a football. The only way you can change your future is to understand the history of your homeland.

You can follow Cassandra Freeman on Twitter: @cassiefree

Kinyarwanda opens in theaters Friday, December 2nd.  You can purchase tickets HERE

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