The screenwriter spent one year writing the first draft of the script. During the process, he called the Rwandan embassy in DC. The woman who picked up the phone was a survivor who stayed at the Milles Collines Hotel.
Director Terry George had Don Cheadle in mind for the lead part from the beginning of his involvement. During pre-production, potential investors and interested studios wanted Denzel Washington, Wesley Snipes, Mekhi Phifer and even Will Smith because of their suggested bigger drawing capacity at the box office. But due to ultimately producing the film independently and coming up with the money himself, George was able to go back to his original choice.
Nick Nolte's character (Col. Oliver) is modeled in part on Lt. Gen. Roméo Dallaire, the Canadian commanding officer of the UN Peacekeeping mission in that country who attempted to interfere with the Rwandan Genocide despite his superiors' indifference to the atrocity. Dallaire was also the subject of Sundance audience award documentary Shake Hands with the Devil: The Journey of Roméo Dallaire (2004), and witnessed such horrible acts in Rwanda that he later suffered severe post-traumatic stress disorder. Despite these facts, this is the only fictional character (name and facts) depicted in the film.
This film was originally given an R rating (Restricted: no one under 17 without a parent or guardian) by the MPAA. Upon appeal by the producers, the film was re-rated as PG-13 - one of very few films that have ever been re-rated without additional editing.
It was later revealed by one of the survivors of the hotel, Pasa Mwenenganucye, that Paul Rusesabagina, was not as heroic as he was depicted to be. The people who sought shelter at his hotel were made to pay for their stay, with priorities given to the wealthier people. The backlash was so bad that Rusesabagina was pressured into cancelling an appearance at a Canadian festival by members of Toronto's Rwandian community, who accused him of being "genocide revisionist and denier." The head of the UN's peacekeeping force in Rwanda at the time, Canadian Romeo Dallaire, addressed the controversy by simply calling the movie "junk". Despite all the claims, Paul Rusesabagina has stood by the movie and denied all claims of any wrongdoing on his part.