Skip to main content

Jacinda Ardern criticises plans for Christchurch massacre movie

The film, set during the aftermath of the 2019 massacre of Muslim worshippers at mosques in the New Zealand city, has been criticised for ignoring the victims
Jacinda Ardern (C) has said she has nothing to do with the film and was not consulted (Reuters)

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has joined criticism of a planned movie about the March 2019 massacre of Muslim worshippers at mosques in the city of Christchurch.

The Guest House: How Muslims grieved the Christchurch attacks
Read More »

The movie, named They are Us, centres around Arden's response to the attack by a white supremacist, which left 51 people dead, but the Kiwi leader said she had no involvement in the project and only found out about it hours before it was officially announced.

Speaking to the Breakfast segment on TVNZ 1, Arden said: "I had no involvement or no knowledge (about the movie)... in my view, it feels very soon and very raw for New Zealand.

"There are so many stories that should be told at some point, I don't consider mine to be one of them. They're the community's stories, they're the families' stories."

Director addresses criticism

Ardern went on to say that it was not up to her to tell the filmmakers what they could and could not do, but she was sure they were now aware of her opinion.

The film, still at pitching stage, is named after a phrase uttered by Ardern about the victims of the attack in a speech she gave days after the killings. 

Director and New Zealander Andrew Niccol has previously said the film focuses on “the response to the attack” rather than the attack itself.

Niccol, who also wrote and co-produced The Truman Show, said the project was about: "How an unprecedented act of hate was overcome by an outpouring of love and support.

"The film addresses our common humanity which is why I think it will speak to people around the world. It is an example of how we should respond when there’s an attack on our fellow human beings.”

It is due to be set in the week following the killings, focusing on Ardern’s handling of the attack, for which she received international praise, including from Muslim communities and states.

'Profiting' from the tragedy

Criticism of the planned movie revolves around the timing, just over two years after the massacre, as well as the centring of a white character, that of Ardern's in the leading role, rather than the victims and their families. In doing so, critics say the film's creators will relegate the victims' perspective to a secondary issue.

petition set up by the New Zealand-based National Islamic Youth Association has called on Niccol to stop production.

"It is not appropriate for Niccol, someone who has not experienced racism or Islamophobia, to lead and profit off a story that is not his to tell," the petition reads. 

Christchurch
A man prays for worshippers killed in the Christchurch massacre (AFP)

With more than 62,000 signatories, the petition's authors say the film "centres white voices and therefore will continue to white-wash the horrific violence perpetrated against Muslim communities".

It urges New Zealanders to “say no” to being part of the film and the Mayor of Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel has already said film crews would not be welcome.

Producer Philippa Campbell, also a New Zealander, announced on Monday that she would be resigning from the project after taking into account the criticisms.

"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 with a project that is causing such distress," she said in a statement.

Blindsided

Announcing the film, the entertainment portal Deadline wrote: "The script was developed in consultation with several members of the mosques affected by the tragedy."

However, officials from one mosque targeted during the massacre said they had not been aware of the movie.

Tony Green, from the Al-Noor mosque, said: “If you were serious about a movie which was about possibly New Zealand’s worst event domestically, you’d want to know this was grounded in a fairly wide decent coverage of those who were affected, and at first glance, we’ve all been blindsided by this, that does not appear to have happened.”

Over the weekend activists got the hashtag #TheyAreUsShutDown trending, with the aim of pressuring producers to end the project.

Kyron Gosse, whose aunt Linda Armstrong was killed in the attack, wrote an open letter on behalf of his family to Australian actress Rose Byrne, who is set to play Ardern, asking her to "rethink" and to turn down the role and "give us time to heal".

"We know that a movie being made about what happened on that dreadful day is inevitable, however for now it is too soon," he writes. 

“The time will come for this story to be told. When the right time does arrive, it is important that the right story is told, a story that focuses on the true heroes of the day.

"Now is not the time, and this is not the story."