Following the backlash against upcoming film, They Are Us, which focuses on the 2019 mosque attacks in New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern has said she has no involvement with it.
Last week, news of an upcoming film called They Are Us received a huge backlash. It was announced that the movie will focus on prime minister of New Zealand Jacinda Ardern and the mosque attacks that took place in Christchurch in 2019, which saw 51 people killed and 40 injured. Rose Byrne has been cast as Ardern in the movie, which has been described as “an inspirational story about the young leader’s response to the tragic events”.
But people quickly criticised the production for not focusing on the Muslim victims of the attack. As reported by the Washington Post, Anjum Rahman of the Islamic Women’s Council of New Zealand said the story “needs telling, but not in this way”. She added: “It should be centred on those directly impacted by the attacks. And the victims need to be properly consulted if this goes ahead.” A petition to shut down the film’s production has gained momentum over recent days.
Yesterday (Monday 14 June), Ardern responded to the news, telling TVNZ’s Breakfast that the film felt “very soon and very raw for New Zealand”. Explaining that she has no involvement in the project, she said: “While 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.”
Ardern said she only found out about the film just before it was announced in the press. However, she also added that it wasn’t her place to tell the entertainment industry what films to make: “It’s not for me to tell people what they can or cannot do [in] the filmmaking community. We wouldn’t want a country where a prime minister could tell that community what to do, but I’m sure they’ve heard my perspective on it too.”
Ardern’s words came after one of the film’s producers, Philippa Campbell, announced that she was resigning from the project. “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 with a project that is causing such distress,” she said in a statement released to media.
“The announcement was focused on film business, and did not take enough account of the political and human context of the story in this country. It’s the complexity of that context I’ve been reflecting on that has led me to this decision.”
In a lengthy response statement published in Deadline, another producer, Ayman Jamal, said the team behind They Are Us is “devastated by the pain and concerns caused by the announcement of the film”.
He continued to explain how they approached making the film, insisting “there is no one hero” in the film: “Collectively the New Zealand people from diverse backgrounds showed us, the rest of the world, that together they turned a horrific terrorist attack to unity, love and compassion by sticking together and affirming that they are all one and in this together.” Jamal also shared his email for anyone who wants to get in touch with him about their own story.
Over on Twitter, people are sharing their own responses to the project.
Journalist Faimar Bakar referred to Riz Ahmed’s recently launched initiative to better represent Muslim people on screen: “On the same day as @rizwanahmed et al reveal their new filmmaking fund for Muslim storytellers, you have the news that a film about the Christchurch attacks is happening, centering Jacinda Ardern (played by Rose Byrne). This is exactly why we need funds like this, man.”
Headscarves and Hymens author and activist Mona Eltahawy added: “How and why the fuck is this film necessary and how and why the fuck does it centre a white woman in a film about the massacre of Muslims? I know Jacinda Ardern as PM has brought some good things and I remember her compassion at the time of the massacre but what the fuck?”
And New Zealand-based journalist Charlotte Graham-McLaye, tweeted: “You can tell how far removed this film is from the community affected and from New Zealand itself by (1) THE NAME and (2) anyone thinking Jacinda Ardern was the main character.”
It will be interesting to see if, despite the very understandable backlash, the movie will continue production at all.