'They Are Us': producer resigns from Christchurch terror attack film project, saying it's 'too raw'

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has also denounced the film, saying her story is 'not the one to be told'

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
Powered by automated translation

A producer for the tentative Hollywood film They Are Us, which will depict Jacinda Ardern's response to the 2019 Christchurch mosque terror attacks, has resigned after the project drew widespread criticism for not focusing on the Muslim victims.

Philippa Campbell issued a statement on Monday apologising for her involvement in the project. “I have listened to the concerns raised over recent days and I have heard the strength of people’s views," she said.

"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."

News of the film came out over the weekend, when The Hollywood Reporter announced Rose Byrne (Bridesmaids, Spy) is slated to take on the role of the New Zealand Prime Minister. It was billed as an "inspirational story about the young leader's response to the tragic events".

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
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

It would be set in the days after the attacks, in which 51 people were killed at two Christchurch mosques, and would follow Ardern's globally praised response and her successful call to ban the deadliest types of semiautomatic weapons.

The movie's title comes from a phrase coined by Ardern in an address given soon after the massacre.

The announcement received an immediate backlash, as people in New Zealand, particularly from the Muslim community, felt the focus on the leadership of a white woman after the death of so many Muslims at the hands of a white supremacist was "obscene" and "insensitive".

The hashtag #TheyAreUsShutdown began trending on Twitter in New Zealand on Friday, while a petition started by the National Islamic Youth Association to shut down production reportedly gathered about 60,000 signatures over three days.

"The film centres on white voices and therefore will continue to whitewash the horrific violence perpetrated against Muslim communities," the petition reads.

Christchurch mayor Lianne Dalziel has also said filmmakers "won't be welcome" in the city.

epa07447506 A muslim worshipper prays at a makeshift memorial near the Al Noor Mosque on Deans Rd in Christchurch, New Zealand, 19 March 2019. A gunman killed 50 worshippers and injured 50 more at the Al Noor Masjid and Linwood Masjid on 15 March, 28-year-old Australian man, Brenton Tarrant, has appeared in court on 16 March and charged with murder.  EPA/MICK TSIKAS  AUSTRALIA AND NEW ZEALAND OUT
A man prays at a memorial for the 2019 Christchurch mosque attacks in which a gunman killed 51 worshippers. EPA

Kyron Gosse, who lost his aunt Linda Armstrong in the attacks, wrote an open letter to Byrne, urging her not to take the role. "Now is not the time, and this is not the story," he wrote.

"Please, turn down the role and give us time to heal.

“This story is far from over and for the families involved, we still live it every single day. Please, give us time. Two years is far too soon to be talking about Hollywood movies.”

Campbell said she initially thought the film would have a positive impact.

“This was reinforced by research interviews undertaken by producer Ayman Jamal with members of the Muslim community in Christchurch," she said.

"I also hoped that telling the story of swift gun control action might resonate in America and other countries that have struggled to create political consensus to control guns.

“I deeply regret the shock and hurt the announcement of the film has caused throughout Aotearoa New Zealand.

“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 is the complexity of that context I have been reflecting on that has led me to this decision.”

Flowers and signs are seen at a memorial as a tribute to victims of the mosque attacks, near Linwood mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, March 16, 2019. REUTERS/Edgar Su
Flowers and signs laid at a memorial to victims of the mosque attacks near Linwood mosque in Christchurch. Reuters

Ardern has insisted she was not consulted on the film, nor was she made aware of it until shortly before it was announced.

“While it’s for the community to speak for themselves, it’s my view March 15 remains very raw for New Zealand,” she said.

“There are plenty of stories from March 15 that could be told, but I don’t consider mine to be one of them.”

The film is to be written and directed by New Zealand-born screenwriter-director Andrew Niccol (Gattaca) who developed the script "in consultation with several members of the mosques affected by the tragedy", according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Niccol and Byrne have yet to respond to the criticism.

epa07451969 Mourners at the funeral of Sayyad Ahmed Milne, aged 14, one of the 50 victims of the mosque shootings, at the Memorial Park Cemetery in Christchurch, New Zealand, 21 March 2019. A gunman killed 50 worshippers at the Al Noor Masjid and Linwood Masjid in Christchurch on 15 March.  EPA-EFE/MICK TSIKAS  AUSTRALIA AND NEW ZEALAND OUT *** Local Caption *** 55069713
Mourners at the funeral of Sayyad Ahmed Milne, 14, one of the 51 victims of the mosque shootings, at the Memorial Park Cemetery in Christchurch, New Zealand, March 21, 2019. EPA-EFE

This is not the first time a film project about the attacks has been talked about. In May 2019, only two months after the massacre, Egyptian producer Moez Masoud announced the production of Hello Brother at the Cannes Film Festival.

Masoud first declared his intentions on Twitter just over a week after the attacks.

"What has happened and is happening in New Zealand is worthy of chronicle, humanitarian documentation and a communal reconsideration (of the other) away from ignorance, fanaticism and extremism, which is not exclusive to anyone," he said, in Arabic.

"We will soon start, if God wills, the production of Hello Brother, an international film about humanity."

The film is still in development, according to IMDb.