Hotel Rwanda is based on the real life story of Paul Rusesabagina (An Ordinary Man: An Autobiography), a man who saved 1,268 Hutu and Tutsi lives during the Rwanda Genocide of 1994. Rusesagabina’s story is brought to life through his poignant autobiography in which he describes the situation in Rwanda before, during, and after the genocide. His account reveals an honest reflection of violent chaos between the Hutus and Tutsis, an opinionated perspective on the lack of UN assistance in the genocide and also reveals his true and natural mastery of conflict resolution that allowed him to fend off threatening Hutu militia. This first-hand account of the genocide reveals and acknowledges Hotel Rwanda’s diversions from the reality of the genocide, yet Rusesabagina is sympathetic to these dramatic embellishments and is still a strong supporter of the film.
The mission of writers Terry George and Keir Pearson to “reach wide audiences” in Hotel Rwanda compromised the reality of Rusesabagina’s story (George 21). George and Pearson explicitly set out to create awareness about the Rwandan genocide through the personal story of Rusesabagina. However, their attempt was conservative and fearful of using violence that they believed would alienate rather than attract audiences. As a result, the film portrays a limited perspective on the genocide. Because the film does not explicitly demonstrate violence, it is not historically accurate. An accurate depiction would show images of citizens hacked to death by machetes, yet George and Pearson chose to avoid these images for reasons stated above.
The most notable deviation from reality comes at the final scene of the film when Rusesabagina and his family arrive at a UN relief camp. This camp as described by Rusesabagina in his autobiography was “a kind of refugee holding area. But it was no camp in the conventional sense. It was a looting zone.” The filmmakers, however, constructed a vision of an organized UN relief camp, complete with ample Red Cross staff attending Hutu and Tutsi victims and supplying food to children, to create a dignified and rewarding conclusion to Rusesabagina’s story. There are other notable deviations from reality in which the filmmakers collapse many real-life personalities into one character, yet these decisions were made solely for the purpose of story-film limitations.
George and Pearson’s evasion of violence in Hotel Rwanda constructs a glorified vision of Paul Rusesabagina’s life that entertains rather than fully educates audiences about the Rwandan genocide.