Spat over Hollywood treatment of Christchurch terror
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is distancing herself from a new film about the Christchurch mosque shootings, saying her office has no involvement in the project.
The Muslim Association of Canterbury has also questioned the timing of the film and whether it is “appropriate right now”.
The movie, They Are Us, highlights the weeks after the tragic shootings on March 15, 2019.
A spokesman for the Prime Minister’s office told the Weekend Herald Ardern and the Government had no involvement with it.
Written and directed by Andrew Niccol, the film follows Ardern’s response to the atrocity and shows how Kiwis rallied behind her call for compassion and unity — including the Government’s response that saw a ban on assault rifles.
Ardern, the main protagonist, will be played by Australian Rose Byrne.
But Muslim Association of Canterbury spokesperson Abdigani Ali said there were “still many sensitivities” around March 15.
“Although recognition of our Prime Minister for her response to attacks is well deserved, we question the timing and whether a movie is appropriate right now.
“The terrorist attack is still raw for our community and if we are talking about the response to the attacks then I want to ask if Andrew Niccol and Rose Byrne have read the response of the Royal Commission Inquiry into the attacks?”
Ali said the Muslim community recognised “that the March 15th story will need to be told” but “we would want to ensure that it’s done in an appropriate, authentic, and sensitive matter”.
“There needs to be a lot of work done in New Zealand in terms of hate-speech laws, recognising Islamophobia does exist in our society and the institutional prejudice within our government apparatus before a blockbuster film comes out stating that we’ve done a great job here in New Zealand.”
Islamic Women's Council spokesperson Anjum Rahman said she was uncomfortable at the idea of filmmakers profiting from the attacks and any narrative that was not victim-centred: “We would prefer to see a film that centres on the victims of the attacks and their families, that centres the story of the Muslim community. Obviously, as part of the aftermath, the way the Prime Minister dealt with the incident is certainly part of that story, which needs to be told, but shouldn't be centred . . . ”
She said if the movie did go ahead, the producers needed to engage with the community so the story could accurately reflect the nature of white supremacy and the consequences of marginalising and denigrating a community.
“Those things have to be central to the story. It's a very sensitive topic and to do it justice you need to do it well and consider all those points,” she said.
Rahman also said any money made should go towards helping the community affected.
The title of the film is taken from Ardern’s powerful speech after the attack that led to 51 deaths.
Ardern received worldwide praise for her response to the shootings and New Zealand rallied around the country’s Muslims, echoing the Government’s response.
The script was developed in consultation with members of the mosques affected by the tragedy.
Exactly what will be portrayed or how much of the events from that day will be depicted in the film is unknown.
Production is set to take place in New Zealand and it will be produced by Ayman Jamal, Stewart Till, Niccol and Philippa Campbell.
“They Are Us is not so much about the attack but the response to the attack [and] how an unprecedented act of hate was overcome by an outpouring of love and support,” Niccol told Hollywood media outlet Deadline.
“The film addresses our common humanity, which is why I think it will speak to people around the world.”
Byrne recently starred in a limited series titled Mrs America in which she portrayed journalist and activist Gloria Steinem.
She is also well known for her more comedic roles in Bridesmaids
and Bad Neighbours.
Kiwi director Niccol was nominated for an Oscar for his film
Gattaca, which he wrote and directed.
He also wrote and produced Oscar-nominated pic The Truman Show, starring Jim Carrey.
The project is set to be shopped to international buyers and at the upcoming Cannes Virtual Market.