'We thought all Muslim men should be terrorists': Jodie Foster, 'Mauritanian' makers talk new Guantanamo legal thriller

Kevin Polowy
·Senior Correspondent, Yahoo Entertainment
·3 min read

Despite well-documented instances of torture there that defied the Geneva Convention and angered the U.S. military — not to mention the American public — the controversial Guantanamo Bay detention camp still remains open, even if it rarely registers much in a tumultuous 24-hour news cycle.

And while the new thriller The Mauritanian brings to light one of Gitmo’s most notorious cases — that of Mohamedou Ould Salahi (Tahar Rahim), who was held at the base for suspicions tied to 9/11 for 14 years and tortured for months at a time yet never charged with a crime — director Kevin Macdonald says the film was made to remind viewers about the American government’s troubling “enhanced interrogation” techniques.

It’s “about the rule of law, and the importance of the rule of law, and of sticking to that,” Macdonald tells Yahoo Entertainment during a recent press day for the film (watch above). “And when you don’t, as they did at Guantanamo, nightmares occur. I think at this time, around the world, where populist politicians are trying to get into power, or have been in power, and they’re trying to circumvent the rule of the law, this is sort of a cautionary tale.

“To me, this isn’t a political movie. It’s a human movie. It’s about this incredible human being, Mohamedou Salahi, who was unjustly imprisoned for 14 years, suffered terrible abuse at the hands of his captors, and yet who came out resilient, full of life and forgiveness.” (The film is based on Salahi’s memoir, the international bestseller Guantanamo Diary.)

Tahar Rahim and Jodie Foster in 'The Mauritanian' (STX)
Tahar Rahim and Jodie Foster in The Mauritanian. (Photo: STX)

Playing Salahi’s lawyer Nancy Hollander, who faced tremendous blowback for defending a man alleged of being an al-Qaeda recruiter, is two-time Oscar winner Jodie Foster.

“I lived [through] 9/11 and that kind of fear and terror that we lived through, that was so singular in our lives,” Foster says. “It’s very important that we maintain the rule of law so that we don’t just become vengeful people, because you make a lot of mistakes that way, and that’s really what happened in Guantanamo. We subjugated a lot of Muslim men just because we thought all Muslim men should be terrorists.”

“It’s not even about being guilty or innocent, it’s about human rights, and the rule of law,” said Rahim, a budding French-Algerian actor whose drawn major praise (and like Foster, a Golden Globe nomination) for his role. “No one should be tortured. If you’re guilty, if you do something wrong, there’s a court, there’s prisons. You pay what you have to pay. But torturing people? Come on.”

The Mauritanian marks a rare movie appearance for Foster: It’s only her third acting gig in the past eight years after 2013’s Elysium and 2018’s Hotel Artemis. (She also directed 2016’s Money Monsteras well as episodes of Black Mirror and Tales From the Loop.)

“I’d rather make movies that I care about that are really meaningful that I feel like really stand for something than make a whole bunch of movies,” Foster says. “I kind of knew, maybe 10 or 15 years ago that I’d be slowing down dramatically as an actor, mostly because I wanted to prioritize my directing. And other things that are in my life like friends and family and all that other stuff.

“Whenever I make a film it’s because I really care about it and I feel like I have something to learn from it. That can be a comedy, it can be a supporting role, it could be some crazy European movie… I have a different idea about the things that I need to accomplish in my later years than I did when I was younger.”

The Mauritanian is now in theaters; get tickets at Fandango.

Watch the trailer:

— Video produced by Jen Kucsak and edited by John Santo

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