Plans for film on Christchurch mosque attacks draw criticism in New Zealand

'They Are Us' is set to star Rose Byrne and focus on the response of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern

Rose Byrne, left, is set to portray New Zealand Prime Minister in 'They Are Us', a film about the response to the Christchurch mosque attacks. Reuters
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Tentative plans for a movie that recounts the response of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to the shooting of Muslim worshippers in Christchurch in 2019 drew criticism in New Zealand on Friday for not focusing on the victims of the attacks.

Hollywood news outlet Deadline reported that Australian actor Rose Byrne was set to play Ardern in the movie They Are Us, which was being shopped by New York-based FilmNation Entertainment to international buyers.

The movie would be set in the days after the 2019 attacks, in which 51 people were killed at two Christchurch mosques.

Deadline said the movie would follow Ardern's response to the attacks and how people rallied behind her message of compassion and unity, and her successful call to ban the deadliest types of semiautomatic weapons.

The title of the movie comes from the words Ardern spoke in a landmark address soon after the attacks. At the time, Ardern was praised around the world for her response.

FILE PHOTO: New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern leaves after Friday prayers at Hagley Park outside Al-Noor mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand March 22, 2019. REUTERS/Jorge Silva/File Photo

But many in New Zealand are raising concerns about the movie plans.

Aya Al-Umari, whose older brother Hussein was killed in the attacks, wrote on Twitter simply “Yeah nah,” a New Zealand phrase meaning “No.”

Abdigani Ali, a spokesperson for the Muslim Association of Canterbury, said the community recognised the story of the attacks needed to be told “but we would want to ensure that it’s done in an appropriate, authentic, and sensitive matter.”

Tina Ngata, an author and advocate, was more blunt, tweeting that the slaughter of Muslims should not be the backdrop for a film about "white woman strength. COME ON.”

Ardern’s office said in a brief statement that the prime minister and her government have no involvement with the movie.

Deadline reported that New Zealander Andrew Niccol would write and direct the project and that the script was developed in consultation with several members of the mosques affected by the tragedy.

Niccol said the film wasn't so much about the attacks but more the response.

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

Byrne's agents and FilmNation have not addressed the concerns. The report said the project would be filmed in New Zealand but did not say when.

Niccol is known for writing and directing Gattaca, and writing The Terminal and The Truman Show, for which he was nominated for an Oscar.

Byrne is known for roles in Spy and Bridesmaids.