An upcoming film about the terrorist attack on a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, has been widely criticised for promoting a ‘white saviour’ narrative.
Members of the Muslim community have also said it is “too soon” to fictionalise the shooting, which happened in 2019. White supremacist Brenton Tarrant murdered 51 worshippers at Al Noor Mosque, and injured 40.
The film, named They Are Us, is set to focus on Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s response to the attacks, with Australian actress Rose Byrne in the starring role.
Producer Philippa Campbell, originally from New Zealand, has pulled out of the film.
She said, “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 15 March 2019 are too raw for film at this time and do not wish to be involved with a project that is causing such distress.”
Ardern herself said that in her view, the film, “feels very soon and very raw for New Zealand.”
“While there are so many stories that should be told at some point, I don’t consider mine to be one of them.”
The mayor of Christchurch, Lianne Dalziel, has also said that the filmmakers “won’t be welcome” in Christchurch.
“I’m just so outraged that they even think that this is an appropriate thing to do.”
“I’ve read people online saying this is too soon. It’s never going to be right. It’s not a story.”
The film has been widely criticised on social media.
You literally took a horrific act of White supremacy and turned it into a story about White people’s feelings??
Nah this ain’t it.
— Mohamed Hassan (@mohamedwashere) June 10, 2021
Human rights activist, Muslim community leader and Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit Anjum Rahman reflected on the film for The Spinoff, writing, “the questions have to be asked: are Muslims not able to engender enough compassion and empathy to be the central part of a movie about this tragedy?”
“Is a movie that captures our pain, our courage, our ability to stand up to the face of terror and hate with dignity and strength not a tale that will sell? Are we not inspiring enough?”
Gemma Gracewood, editor-in-chief of Letterboxd, a film-focused social networking site, shared a thread about the film.
In it, she wrote, “the two faces in the story are privileged, cis, white women. The film’s story is said to be about a leader’s response to a massive, unimaginable tragedy. Until we see it, we can’t know how the many others in the story will be consulted or portrayed, but it leads to the questions: Who is the audience for this?”
Most significantly, a petition organised by the National Islamic Youth Association calling for the project to be canceled has reached over 64,000 signatures.
Part of the petition’s description reads: “the film centres white voices and therefore will continue to white-wash the horrific violence perpetrated against Muslim communities.”
“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.”
Sondos Qu’raan, one of the Association’s co-founders, told the ABC that “I was taken aback by the fact someone thought two years on from the attack it would be OK to highlight this attack … from a perspective that doesn’t acknowledge or centre Muslim voices.”
“Seeing a story like this while you’re still seeing your community members suffer and mourn, it’s a really hard thing to deal with.”
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