Coexist and the Rwandan Genocide

Discussion Facilitators: Adam Mazo, Director of the Upstander Project, Producer, and Director of Coexist and Mishy Lesser, the Learning Director for the Upstander Project.

What is Coexist?

  • A documentary about the aftermath of the genocide and forced reconciliation
  • The new government in Rwanda is pushing unity and hosts workshops at which they encourage re-humanization of those who were once considered the enemy and perpetrators
  • While the film is about Rwandans in Rwanda, the primary intended audience is Americans or at least English speakers

Making of the film:

  • Had to get permission from a film commission in Rwanda but they were not required to screen the final product for the board
  • It was challenging to get people comfortable with sharing their personal stories but a lot of credit goes to goes to the individuals brave enough to share and the interpreter
    • If subjects understood that their story could help educate others, they were more willing to participate
  • Intentionally chose not to dub in order to make the film more authentic and thus make it relatable

What is the Upstander Project?

Definition of an upstander: the antithesis of a bystander, namely someone who speaks out against injustice and does not continue the trend of “othering” (distinguishing groups or individuals as distinct with general negative connotations)


  • The Upstander Project aims to teach students and school administrators how to become upstanders
  • Want teachers to feel as though they have another tool they can use to handle students having conflict
  • They wish to take something as powerful and complicated as the subject matter Coexist was able to cover and transform it into educational materials, teaching Students to deter the concept of othering and hopefully derail the thought process behind genocide
  • They want to make othering socially unacceptable and derail violence in its less intense/ beginning stages
  • Use the horrors of Rwanda as a foundation for lessons in this country
  • “We want to see all people understand what it means to be an upstander, seeing value of reconciliation and forgiveness over revenge”


  • Have been working with the film for about 4-5 years in schools
  • Attempting to make the content of Coexist relevant and applicable to our lives
    • In workshops they ask people to sit in pairs and recall a time when they have been othered followed by a time when they have othered someone
  • Are planning to host a weeklong academy for teachers and administrators where teams will come to develop implementation plans about how to shift school cultures to incorporate upstander ideals
  • Implementing a big tent approach where the goal is to reach guidance counselors, staff, administrators, and students
    • Success Story: In East Hartford Connecticut created a school club called the Upstanders