‘The Mauritanian’ is a legal drama based on the best-selling book ‘Guantánamo Diary.’ It narrates the story of a man, claiming that he has been captured by the US government and is held at the Guantánamo Bay detention camp without charge or trial. In his fight to prove his innocence and reclaim freedom, he is assisted by defense attorney Nancy Hollander and her associate, Teri Duncan.
As the case progresses, Lt. Colonel Stuart Couch and the team of lawyers uncover shocking truths that challenge everything they thought they knew. The movie deals with a sensitive subject, making one think that such a storyline could only be formulated based on real experiences. If you are wondering whether this happened to someone, then we are here to put those doubts to rest.
Is The Mauritanian Based on a True Story?
Yes, ‘The Mauritanian’ is based on a true story. The movie is based on the memoir of Mohamedou Ould Salahi, who wrote the book while he was still imprisoned at Guantánamo. He was detained without charge in 2002, only to be released on October 17, 2016. What drew director Kevin Macdonald to make this film was an interaction with Mohamedou himself. Macdonald was reluctant to take on the project since he felt that he did not have enough knowledge on the War on Terror and the American judicial system.
After talking to Mohamedou over a Skype call, he realized that Mohamedou is not just a “survivor of the experience” but someone who has positively touched the lives of people he has come across. Macdonald described Mohamedou as a warm person with a great sense of humor. Mohamedou was an essential part of making the film; he met the cast and even managed to visit the film sets. Tahar Rahim (who plays Mohamedou) ensured that he spent time with Mohamedou to “get to know the man” and not “interrogate” him since he did not want him to relive the horrors of all that he had been through over the years.
The team noticed a prominent shift in Mohamedou’s mood and expression whenever the topic of Guantánamo was broached, and it was evident that it was hard for him to be on the prison sets. However, the actor left no stone unturned as far as his preparation for the character was concerned. He wore real handcuffs and asked the team to waterboard him so that the camera could capture a genuine emotional response from him.
Jodie Foster (who plays Nancy Hollander) got the opportunity to meet the real Nancy. The actress was touched by Nancy’s dedication to providing robust defense to those who needed it, even though the real-life lawyer was heavily criticized for aiding supposed terrorists. Foster said that there are several fascinating aspects to Nancy’s personality that are not seen in the film. Another difference between the movie and reality is that the friction between Nancy and Teri (Shailene Woodley) did not occur in real life. Moreover, Teri is a composite character based on two people.
Benedict Cumberbatch also met the real Stuart Couch to prepare for his role. The actor was supposedly nervous before meeting him since his political opinions are different from those of Couch, who is a Republican. However, Cumberbatch ended up enjoying Couch’s company. Furthermore, Macdonald also wanted to ensure that the prison set was built accurately.
my former guard @Stevewood81OR and I breaking fast. Al hamdulillah! #Ramadan
@TeriDuncanNM @NancyHollander_ @mskittenfish @LarrySiems @BrandonTXNeely @loztopham @SuzieGilbertLdn @ggreenwald pic.twitter.com/rIIsI2CsVG
— Mohamedou O Slahi (Houbeini) ولد صلاحي (@MohamedouOuld) May 19, 2018
Since it is hard to get information regarding what Guantánamo looks like from the inside, they heavily relied on Mohamedou’s experience. Mohamedou sketched out what the cells looked like and used his body for measurement to get the proportions right. The production team also found it helpful to talk to the former guard and Mohamedou’s friend, Steve. He described the costumes, the procedures, and how they chained up people there. Evidently, the filmmakers made use of each and every resource at their disposal to accurately depict the harrowing ordeal of the protagonist.
Where Is Mohamedou Ould Salahi Now?
Mohamedou Ould Salahi, from Mauritania, was born in 1970. His detention at Guantánamo Bay grabbed a lot of attention worldwide. He was accused of being a part of the Al-Qaeda by the American government. (Back in the 80s, during the Afghanistan insurrection, he unwittingly worked with the group. However, he later renounced them and denied being involved with terrorist activities). He was severely tortured during his detention at Guantánamo. In addition to the international best-seller, ‘Guantánamo Diaries,’ Mohamedou wrote four more books during his time at Guantánamo. However, that experience changed his life.
Even after being released, he was only allowed to move from Guantánamo to Mauritania since no country would give him a visa. Moreover, his passport was retained by the US government. He was not allowed to go to Germany to meet his newborn son; it would be two years before he saw him for the first time since the baby could not be registered as a citizen or get a passport. Mohamedou was also not allowed to leave the country to receive treatment for a neurological condition that has worsened due to being subjected to torture.
Mohamedou has been living in Mauritania ever since his release from Guantánamo. South Africa is the only place he has been to post his time in Guantánamo; it was to participate in the making of the film. He took this opportunity to travel around a little with Nancy Hollander. In his interview with CBS News, Mohamedou said that he has “wholeheartedly” forgiven everyone who wronged him during his time in Guantánamo.
Macdonald revealed that Mohamedou lives with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Mohamedou feels guilty about leaving the detention camp, which still holds about 40 people. He frequently lobbies for their release. The New York Review published an open letter on January 29, 2021, to President Biden from Mohamedou and six other people who were formerly held in Guantánamo. The letter appeals to the president to close down the facility.
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