Fury over Christchurch massacre film that portrays Jacinda Ardern as ‘white saviour’

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Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was praised for her response to the attack - Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was praised for her response to the attack - Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images

An "inspirational" film about Jacinda Ardern's reaction to the Christchurch mosque massacre has been criticised as insensitive and the filmmakers accused of overlooking the Muslim victims.

The film takes its name “They Are Us” from a line from a speech given by Ms Ardern, the New Zealand prime minister, and is to star Australian actress Rose Byrne.

The terror attack saw 51 Muslims murdered by a white supremacist, who stormed two mosques on March 15, 2019.

Ms Ardern distanced herself from the project, issuing a statement via a spokesperson saying “the Prime Minister and the government have no involvement in the film”.

Aya Al-Umari, whose brother Hussein was killed in the attack, dismissed claims that the film had been developed in collaboration with families of victims, tweeting: "Has it though".

"It seems like it’s just capitalising on what happened here and I don’t think it will be well received in New Zealand,” she said.

Guled Mire, a writer and community activist, told local media the film’s premise was “completely insensitive”. Abdigani Ali, spokesman for the Muslim Association of Canterbury, echoed his sentiments.

"There are still many sensitivities around the tragic events," he said. "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."

"They Are Us" was not so much about the attack but the response to it, the director Andrew Niccol was quoted as telling the Hollywood Reporter, which described the film an "inspirational story about the young leader’s response to the tragic events".

#TheyAreUsShutDown was trending on Twitter in New Zealand.

Mohamed Hassan, a New Zealand journalist and poet who hosts a podcast about the aftermath of the terror attack, said that “in the months following the Christchurch attacks, some of us in the Muslim community began to feel a sense of unease with the way this shattering day was being broadcast to the world”.

Commenting on the film, he tweeted: "You do not get to turn this into a White Saviour narrative."

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You literally took a horrific act of White supremacy and turned it into a story about White people’s feelings??" he added.

"It is a tragedy, one that must always be centred around the Muslim victims and their families. No one else."

Australian writer and commentator Osman Faruqi wrote on social media that the idea of focusing the story on the New Zealand prime minister “sucks”.

“Making art out of horror is important, but not like this. I could write a screenplay in a month that was [more] compelling than this concept,” he said.