Tensions between the Hutu and Tutsi peoples lead to a genocide in Rwanda, where corruption and bribes between politicians are routine.
Paul Rusesabagina, manager of the Hôtel des Mille Collines, is Hutu, but his wife Tatiana, is Tutsi.
Paul curries favour with people of influence, bribing them with money and alcohol, seeking to maintain sufficient influence to keep his family safe.
When civil war erupts and a Rwandan Army officer threatens Paul and his neighbours, Paul barely negotiates their safety and brings them to the hotel.
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Upon returning with them, he finds his receptionist Gregoire occupying the Presidential suite threatening to rat them out if he is put back to work.
More evacuees arrive at the hotel from the overburdened UN refugee camp, the Red Cross, and various orphanages, among which Tatiana desperately searches for her brother, sister-in-law, and two nieces.
Low on supplies, Paul and Gregoire drive to collect hotel supplies from Georges Rutaganda and witnesses Tutsi hostages being treated violently by the Hutu militia.
Georges explains to Paul that the "rich cockroaches'" money is going to be valueless because all of the Tutsis will be dead.