New Zealand Prime Minister and the wider Christchurch community have voiced their strong opposition to a film based on the 2019 mosque terror attacks being made in their city.
Jacinda Ardern is against the project, titled They Are Us, a phrase coined by herself in the immediate aftermath of the shootings, in which 51 people were killed on March 15.
“It feels so raw for all of us still but not not least, the community,” she told The AM Show.
“Yes there are stories to be told from March 15 but I don’t consider mine to be one of them.
“I think it’s for the community to determine whether or not those are stories that at some stage they want told or not … now feels very raw for everyone.”
Christchurch mayor Lianne Dalziel said filmmakers “won’t be welcome” in the city of Christchurch and the National Islamic Youth Association has put out a call asking locals to withdraw their support for hiring gear out, giving approval to film on location and doing any interviews.
The petition, signed by 61,000 Kiwis as of Monday afternoon, is asking FilmNation Entertainment, CAA Media Finance and the local film industry to withdraw support.
The mounting opposition has cast doubt on whether the film will be made at all, which was set to star Australian actress Rose Byrne.
The NIYA is asking locals no “say no” to the use of locations, hiring gear, talent or crew and interviewing or promoting They Are Us.
The film’s focus on Ms Ardern’s response to the tragedy is at the centre of NIYA’s opposition.
“The film centres white voices and therefore will continue to white-wash the horrific violence perpetrated against Muslim communities,” the petition reads.
The growing backlash has forced one Kiwi film producer, Phillipa Campbell, to pull out.
“‘I’ve 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 film at this time and do not wish to be involved,” she said.
Ms Ardern was set to get a taste of the opposition first-hand on Tuesday afternoon when she visits Christchurch for a conference on countering terrorism and extremism.
Local mayor Ms Dalziel doubts there will ever be a time for a dramatisation of New Zealand’s worst modern-day mass shooting.
“I’m just so outraged that they even think that this is an appropriate thing to do,” she said.
“I’ve read people online saying this is too soon. It’s never going to be right. It’s not a story.”
Aliya Danzeisen, Islamic Women’s Council of New Zealand national coordinator, expressed her disbelief at the film’s production, tweeting “what were they thinking?”.
Last week, according to a report by US-based entertainment industry news outlet Deadline, was being developed in consultation with members of Canterbury’s Muslim community.
Acclaimed Kiwi director Andrew Niccol – who directed Gattaca and wrote The Truman Show – is behind the project.
Rose Byrne told the Associated Press she was “really excited” to be playing “such a fascinating character” in brief remarks.
It’s unclear whether Ms Byrne was aware of the growing local opposition to the project.
FilmNation, the movie’s key backer, has been contacted for comment.
Film won’t be received well by locals
Aya Al-Umari, whose brother Hussein was murdered in the attack, said it was insensitive, tweeting the classic Kiwi-ism “Yeah nah”.
“I don’t think this film will be received well in New Zealand. My guess is it’s Hollywood over-capitalising this,” she said.
Auckland-raised journalist Mohamed Hassan said the movie appeared to centre on Ms Ardern at the expense of the impacted community.
“You do not get to tell this story. You do not get to turn this into a White Saviour narrative,” he tweeted.