They Are Us movie script ‘worse than livestream’ of Christchurch attack, say victims’ families

Show caption Families of those who died in the 2019 Christchurch mosque shootings say the leaked film script of They Are Us is retraumatising. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images New Zealand They Are Us movie script ‘worse than livestream’ of Christchurch attack, say victims’ families Family members of those killed in the 2019 attack in New Zealand say they have been retraumatised by the script, which has been leaked Eva Corlett in Wellington Tue 13 Jul 2021 04.19 BST Share on Facebook

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The leaked draft script of a controversial film depicting the Christchurch mosque shooting has been described as “worse than the livestream” by those who lost family members in the attack.

The proposed film, They Are Us, which takes its name from prime minister Jacinda Ardern’s comments following the massacre of 51 Muslim worshippers at al Noor mosque and Linwood Islamic Centre in 2019, was announced in June. The massacre was livestreamed on Facebook by the gunman.

The film-makers proposed to focus on Ardern’s response in the aftermath of the attack, which immediately drew backlash for centring the story on the leadership of a white woman. Many Muslim New Zealanders criticised the move as “exploitative”, “insensitive”, and “obscene”.

The film’s announcement also triggered an online petition which received nearly 75,000 signatures and compelled the film’s producer, Philippa Campbell, to resign from the project.

The 124-page script, written by New Zealand-born Andrew Niccol, was leaked to Newshub on Sunday.

Earlier this year, Niccol told the Hollywood Reporter that “They Are Us is not so much about the attack but the response to the attack … how an unprecedented act of hate was overcome by an outpouring of love and support.”

Just watched this newshub exclusive on #theyAreUsshutitdown made me sick to my stomach &that’s not even the movie in itself, it’s just wrong on all levels , and this script proves it, it proves it capitlises over our grief , and the terrorist is on the spotlight. Shut it down. — Aya Al-Umari 🇳🇿 آية العمري 🇮🇶 (@AyaUmari) July 11, 2021

But Newshub reports that 17 pages of the draft script are devoted to the attack, which would translate to 17 minutes on film, and 15 deaths are described in graphic detail. Newshub also reports that facts about real people have been altered.

Parts of the script show the terrorist in the moments before entering the mosque, accompanied by a “discordant, foreboding sound”.

Further into the script, the writers describe a silhouette of the gunman, and note that it is the “most we will ever see of the gunman. The lack of a clear visual context of the gunman somehow makes the event more shocking, more frightening – mostly what we are left with is the brutality of the sound of unrelenting gunfire”.

Salwa Mohamad, whose husband, Khaled, and son, Hamza Mustafa, were murdered at al Noor mosque, told Newshub that the violence in the film was “worse than the livestream”.

Anjum Rahman, a spokesperson for the Islamic Women’s Council of New Zealand, added that the leaked draft may be an earlier version of the script, but that the project overall “beggars belief”.

“This is absolutely not about people impacted by the tragedy of this film at all, not in any way.”

Rahman has not read the script but said the depiction of violence she had seen in Newshub’s screenshots was dangerous, especially given that there were copycat attacks planned or carried out after the massacre.

“The livestream is objectionable material in New Zealand. To have it portrayed in graphic detail on the screen like that, I don’t understand what purpose it serves,” Rahman said.

Aya Al-Umari, whose brother Hussein was killed in the attack, has not read the script either, but said she was deeply troubled by what she had seen reported.

“It’s just wrong on so many levels. This has affected many people beyond the scope of directly impacted victims. Anyone who has been exposed to the [livestreamed] video is traumatised by it – to see that made into a drama and profited on is wrong on so many levels.”

Al-Umari drew a distinction between a documentary, which sets a higher bar for factual reporting, and a dramatisation that takes creative licence with real experiences.

“How would they feel if it was their brother, sister, mother or father who had been slaughtered and live streamed in this manner and then someone goes and does a movie about it?” she said.

Writer and community advocate Guled Mire said that the script looked to be the opposite of what the film-makers initially proposed, which was to focus on the aftermath of the attack.

“They are literally flipping the script,” he said.

Telling stories of Islamophobia and white supremacy should be reserved for those with lived experience, who can tell those stories with care and delicacy, he said.

Mire said the film-makers were not listening to the community’s concerns, and that Australian actor Rose Byrne, who is slated to play Ardern in the film, should answer the criticism.

“She has yet to answer why she is backing this and she carries a lot of weight.”

The Guardian has approached the film’s studio, FilmNation Entertainment, and Niccol’s agency, CAA, for comment.