New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said any film about the Christchurch mosque attacks should centre the Muslim community, after concerns have been raised about a film that plans to follow Ardern’s response to the attacks.
There are strong calls from within New Zealand’s Muslim community for a film about Ardern called They Are Us to be shut down. A petition started by The National Islamic Youth Association that says the film will “whitewash” the attacks, has received more than 60,000 signatures.
“The film centres white voices and therefore will continue to white-wash the horrific violence perpetrated against Muslim communities,” the petition states.
“The writer and director of ‘They Are Us’, Andrew Niccol, stated that “They Are Us is not so much about the attack but the response to the attack…how an unprecedented act of hate was overcome by an outpouring of love and support”. It is not appropriate for Niccol, someone who has not experienced racism or Islamaphobia, to lead and profit off a story that is not his to tell.”
The Hollywood Reporter said the film is being billed as an “inspirational story about the young leader’s response to the tragic events”, and will follow Ardern’s character in the aftermath of the shootings.
Ardern has distanced herself from the film, which she says she hasn’t had any involvement with. At a press conference on Monday, Ardern said her story was not one that needed to be told in relation to the shootings, and any film made should centre the stories of the Muslim community.
“This is [a] very raw event for New Zealand and even more so for the community that experienced it,” Ardern said.
“I agree that there are stories that at some point should be told from March 15. But they are the stories from our Muslim community so they need to be at the centre of that. I don’t consider mine to be one of the stories that needs to be told,” she said.
It has been reported that Australian actress Rose Byrne has been cast to play Ardern in the film, with the film’s title being drawn from Ardern’s words following the attacks. At the time, her response was praised internationally for its compassion.
A producer of a U.S. film about the New Zealand mosque attacks quit, after 60,000 signed a petition to cancel the film.— AJ+ (@ajplus) June 14, 2021
Critics say its reported focus on PM Jacinda Ardern, not the 51 Muslims killed or survivors, sensationalizes the tragedy and feeds into “white savior” tropes. pic.twitter.com/dcJxjjjvY0
One of the producers working on the film, Philippa Campbell, has resigned from the production following the concerns raised. She apologised for her involvement and said the events of March 19 were still too raw.
“I have listened to the concerns raised over recent days and I have heard the strength of people’s views. I now agree that the events of March 15, 2019, are too raw for [a] film at this time and do not wish to be involved with a project that is causing such distress,” Campbell said.
The hashtag #TheyAreUsShutdown has been trending on social media, and Stuff NZ reported that members of the Muslim community felt “blindsided” by news of the film that they had not been consulted on.
Mohamed Hassan, a journalist and poet from New Zealand, wrote that for a film about white supremacy to centre white voices was “nauseating”.
Opinion – ‘They Are Us’ is a story about an act of white supremacy centered around white voices, white feelings and white heroism. The irony is nauseating and lack of self-awareness is profound, Mohamed Hassan writes.https://t.co/x9xsg1LF74— RNZ (@radionz) June 11, 2021
“Even worse, that the film has chosen to focus not on the tragedy and the victims, but instead on the Prime Minister and the rest of the country and their response. It is being sold as a feel-good story, a portrayal of heroism in the face of terror,” Hassan wrote in the NZ Herald.
“In its essence, it is a story about an act of white supremacy that is centered around white voices, white feelings and white heroism. The irony is nauseating. The lack of self-awareness is profound.”