The fundamental difference between works of fiction and nonfiction rests on whether the story told is a mere fabrication or factually reliable.
In certain types of writing – such as reportage, history, and memoir – there is nearly zero room to alter anything; the contents must be verifiable facts supported with records and evidence.
In movies other than the documentary genre, however, filmmakers often take the liberties to determine the balance between imaginary and real-life events; there is nothing wrong if the former ends up being the dominant side of the two as long as it is clearly labeled as such.
Some are “loosely” based on historical records, which results in films that are almost entirely fiction, including the characters, locations, and storyline.
Wes Craven’s 1984 A Nightmare on Elm Street is an excellent example of that.
The horror film is loosely based on the story of refugees who fled to the United States to escape the Killing Fields in Cambodia and, more specifically, the Hmong people, an ethnic group of Laos, who were viewed as traitors by the communist regime for their work with CIA.
In resettlement, dozens of young, healthy refugees died under mysterious circumstances in their sleep, presumably in a nightmare.
10 Cambodian Refugees
One of the earliest origins that ultimately became the inspiration of A Nightmare on Elm Street are articles published by the Los Angeles Times in the early 1980s about how many Cambodian refugees, who escaped the killing fields in their home country and resettled in the United States, had horrific nightmares about the atrocity of the Khmer Rouge regime.
One particular boy refused to sleep for days for fear of having the same nightmares. When he finally fell asleep due to exhaustion, he was awoken screaming then almost immediately died.
9 Hmong People
Many people believed that the real inspiration for the film was the story of the Hmong people from Laos who also escaped the communist regime.
They fled to the United States, and during their time in the resettlement, dozens died after having sudden breathing difficulty while sleeping.
A lot of Hmong Americans today are those refugees and their descendants. The Communist regime in Laos considered them traitors for their works with the CIA during the Secret War.
Some 40,000 Hmong people fled to refugee camps in Thailand in 1975 then resettled in the United States.