Director Mira Nair's New Film Challenges Post-9/11 Xenophobia

The director's new movie 'The Reluctant Fundamentalist' received a standing ovation after a screening at the Smith Rafael Film Center.

Looks can be deceiving, says Changez, a young Pakistani teacher suspected of anti-American sentiments.

Changez, the protagonist of Mira Nair’s new film The Reluctant Fundamentalist, recounts his journey to the United States as a college student where he climbs the corporate ladder of Wall Street until the 9/11 attacks alter his life forever. The film had its American premier at the Smith Rafael Film Center Wednesday evening as part of the 35th Mill Valley Film Festival, and received a standing ovation from the audience.

Based on a 2007 novel by British-Pakistani author Mohsin Hamid, The Reluctant Fundamentalist examines the ideologies behind American corporate greed, the xenophobic effects of the 9/11 attacks and Pakistan’s desire for independence from American political influences. The opening credits show a map of the world, detailed with mug shots of suspected terrorists.

“It’s not just about religious fundamentalism, but economic fundamentalism as well,” Nair said at the screening.

The cast features Kate Hudson, Liev Schreiber, Kiefer Sutherland and Riz Ahmed as Changez. Nair wants the story to spark dialogue about the global climate as it follows the characters to several different countries.

“You hear about the young man who came in a body bag or traumatized, but you never hear of the Iraqi woman whose house was bombed in the name of democracy,” she said.

Known for Monsoon Wedding, The Namesake and Amelia, Nair first ventured to the Mill Valley Film Festival in 1988, when her movie Salaam Bombay! was the closing night film. Since then, she’s directed television movies, documentaries and feature films. On Wednesday, she received a Spotlight Award for her work.

“She perfectly straddles east and west, but touches the heartbeat in us all,” said Zoë Elton, director of programming.

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