A slated film about the 2019 Christchurch Mosque murders sparked an intense backlash in New Zealand, with community members and leaders slamming the project for pushing a ‘white savior’ narrative.
The film, “They Are Us,” aims to focus on New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s handling of the horrific shootings of March 2019 when a white supremacist gunman raged in two mosques during Friday prayers, killing 51 people and seriously injuring 40 others.
The assailant killed 44 people at Al Noor Mosque before going to Linwood Mosque, where he killed seven others.
The National Islamic Youth Association said the proposed film “sets aside the victims and survivors and instead focuses on a white woman’s response,” saying it focuses on the role played by Ardern, rather than on the victims of the attack.
A petition from the association asking to stop production has collected more than 60,000 signatures.
You cannot tell this story.
You can’t turn it into a story of the white Savior.
It is not yours.
This pain is still fresh and real.
It is heartbreaking, obscene and grotesque. I am tired. https://t.co/WqyIbBWQ8p
– Mohamed Hassan (@mohamedwashere) June 10, 2021
He said the Muslim community had not been properly consulted on the project, which was scripted by New Zealand writer Andrew Niccol.
“Entities and individuals should not seek to market or profit from a tragedy that has befallen our community, nor should such an atrocity be sensational,” said association co-chair Haris Murtaza.
“Focus on the community”
Muslim poet Mohamed Hassan said filmmakers should focus on those community members who suffered the brunt of the attacks, not using them as props in a welfare story on Ardern.
“You can’t tell this story. You can’t turn it into a story of the white Savior. It’s not yours, ”he tweeted.
“The film chose not to focus on the tragedy and the victims, but rather on the Prime Minister and the rest of the country and their response,” Hassan wrote in an article for Radio New Zealand. “It’s sold as a story of well-being, a representation of heroism in the face of terror.”
The mayor of Christchurch said the team behind They Are Us were not welcome in Christchurch for the film. She states that this is not the appropriate movie to make. This comes after the petition reached 40,000 signatures. Keep signing! #TheyAreClose
– Shaneel Lal (They / Them) (haneshaneellall) June 12, 2021
Last year the assailant, self-proclaimed white supremacist Australian Brenton Tarrant, was jailed for life without parole, the first time a life sentence has been imposed in New Zealand.
On Monday, Ardern also criticized the film for being poorly timed and focused on the wrong subject. She said the attacks remained “very raw” for many New Zealanders and that the filmmakers had not consulted her about the film, which is expected to feature Australia’s Rose Byrne as the center-left frontman. .
“In my opinion, which is a personal point of view, it looks very soon and very raw for New Zealand,” Ardern told TVNZ.
“And while there are so many stories that should be told at any given time, I don’t consider mine to be one of them – these are the stories of the community, the stories of the families.”
Ardern received widespread praise for her empathetic and inclusive handling of the attacks, the worst mass shooting in modern New Zealand history, including covering her head with a scarf when she encountered mourners.
The title of the film refers to a line from a speech she gave in the aftermath of the atrocity when she pledged to support the Muslim community and strengthen gun laws.
One of the film’s producers, Philippa Campbell, left the project saying she regretted the shock and pain it had caused.
“I have listened to the concerns raised over the past few days and I have heard the strength of people’s views,” said Campbell.
“I now agree that the events of March 15, 2019 are too raw for the film at this time and I don’t want to be involved in a project that causes such distress,” she said in a statement.
The mayor of Christchurch, where the attacks took place, said film crews would not be welcome in his city.
“I’m so outraged that they even think it’s the right thing to do,” Lianne Dalziel told RNZ media outlet.
Jesus, the film was supposed to focus on the Prime Minister, Jacinda Adern, and his response to the attacks
Fortunately, she condemned the idea and the mayor of Christchurch refused to have the film shot there. Good for them.
– Robert Evans (The Only Robert Evans) (@IwriteOK) June 14, 2021