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.
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.
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.