Jodie Foster and Benedict Cumberbatch defend The Mauritanian against criticisms it is a ‘white-saviour movie’

‘I just don’t think we live in that world, do we, of black-and-white goodies and baddies?’ said Cumberbatch

Ellie Harrison
Friday 26 March 2021 15:35
The Mauritanian
The Mauritanian

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The stars of The Mauritanian have defended the film against criticism that it is a “white-saviour movie”.

Kevin Macdonald’s legal drama tells the true story of Mohamedou Ould Slahi, who after 9/11 was tortured and imprisoned by the US without charge in Guantánamo for 14 years.

It stars Tahar Rahim as Slahi, Jodie Foster as Nancy Hollander, the lawyer who fought to bring Slahi’s case to light, and Benedict Cumberbatch as Lt Col Stuart Couch, a US military prosecutor who refused to proceed with Slahi’s prosecution after concluding that his incriminating statements were the result of torture.

Hollander and Couch have been highlighted as characters who could fit into the “white saviour” profile and some have criticised The Mauritanian for letting the US off the hook by portraying them as the heroes.

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Film critic Brian Tallerico said The Mauritanian “centres on the white saviours of the captured prisoner instead of the prisoner himself… as Macdonald’s film ventures further into its revelations about torture and injustice, Salahi himself gets lost in the storytelling, tragically becoming another face in the crowd of abused prisoners”.

Foster has since defended the film, telling The Guardian: “It doesn’t feel like a white-saviour movie to me. And I think the filmmakers were pretty careful about that. This is Mohamedou’s story, told from his perspective. There are moments where we shift out of his perspective in order to, in a documentary way, give the points of view of the other characters.”

Speaking about her character specifically, she added: “But I don’t think that Nancy Hollander is letting America off the hook; Nancy Hollander is somebody who challenges the system from within it and we’re lucky to have her… Nancy is the person who got Mohamedou to write the book and, in the end, the book is the only reason that he got released.”

Cumberbatch also disputed that The Mauritanian lets the US off the hook, telling the publication: “I sort of get the point. But I just don’t think we live in that world, do we, of black-and-white goodies and baddies? If you really want someone to shout at, should we have Donald Rumsfeld do a walk-on? And Dick Cheney? Maybe even some people in the Obama administration?”

Despite Obama pledging to close Guantánamo Bay, it is still operating to this to day.

The Mauritanian comes to Amazon Prime Video on 1 April.

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