‘We don’t live in a world of goodies and baddies, do we?’ The true story behind The MauritanianMarch 26, 2021
Mohamedou Ould Slahi was tortured and detained without charge in Guantánamo for 14 years. Tahar Rahim, Jodie Foster and Benedict Cumberbatch discuss bringing his memoir to life
When Mohamedou Ould Slahi came to South Africa to visit the set of The Mauritanian, it was a strange and complicated experience, he says. The film tells the story of Slahi’s experience as possibly the highest-profile detainee at the infamous Guantánamo Bay camp in Cuba. He was kidnapped, tortured in ways barely imaginable and incarcerated for 14 years, but never charged with a crime. Now he was walking around an uncanny replica of his former prison, on a sun-baked set near Cape Town.
He watched a scene on a monitor in which Tahar Rahim played him and Jodie Foster played Nancy Hollander, the lawyer who was instrumental in Slahi’s release. But Slahi could barely look, he says: “It was so reminiscent of my time in Guantánamo Bay that I just pretended to be like British people, you know? Just be nice. But I didn’t do anything. I didn’t listen to the audio and I looked away from the scene.”
Rahim recalls Slahi’s visit very well: “He was trying to hide his pain and his suffering by cracking jokes and talking to people, but I could tell that seeing the set, that was so well done, affected him. Nancy Hollander was there as well. So Mohamedou and Nancy were watching that scene and they held hands and started to cry together. Really, it was moving. At some point, he said: ‘I want to go back to the hotel.’ It was too hard to handle.”