They Are Us: controversial film about Christchurch attacks put on hold

Show caption Rose Byrne was cast as Jacinda Ardern in the film about the 2019 mosque attacks in New Zealand, They Are Us. Photograph: Rob Latour/for BAFTA/REX/Shutterstock Film They Are Us: controversial film about Christchurch attacks put on hold Fictional account of mosque shootings starring Rose Byrne as Jacinda Ardern has been criticised as ‘insensitive’ Tess McClure in Christchurch @tessairini Fri 23 Jul 2021 07.31 BST Share on Facebook

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Work on the controversial film They Are Us, which dramatises the 15 March Christchurch mosque shootings, has been put on hold.

The film takes its name from a phrase in a speech made by prime minister Jacinda Ardern following the killing of 51 Muslim worshippers by a white supremacist in 2019. It focused on Ardern’s response following the attacks, with actor Rose Byrne slated to play Ardern.

But the film’s announcement prompted outcry from New Zealand’s Muslim community, many of whom criticised its premise as “insensitive” and “obscene”. Ardern herself has had no involvement with the project.

The film’s director, Andrew Niccol, told New Zealand news sites via a statement that he was “saddened by the pain caused to families of the victims,” and that the film’s development was on hold, until further consultation with the Muslim community could be carried out – but he still hoped it could be made.

“Our hope for this film, concieved by producer Ayman Jamal, which will take years to complete, is that it will honour the survivors, and the lives lost,” Niccol said in the statement. This was the first public comment he has made since the film’s announcement in June.

Writer and community advocate, Guled Mire, said the film being put on hold was “a testament to the response and the message that New Zealand has sent as a country, as a nation, behind the Muslim community itself – which is something that needs to be applauded”.

He said work on the proposed film should not restart: “Not now, not tomorrow, not ever, period.”

A leaked copy of a draft script for the film prompted further backlash earlier this month. At the time, Aya Al-Umari, whose brother Hussein was killed in the attack, said she was deeply troubled by reports of what the draft contained.

“It’s just wrong on so many levels. This has affected many people beyond the scope of directly impacted victims..”

An online petition launched to shut down the film’s production received nearly 75,000 signatures. Its producer, Philippa Campbell, resigned from the project shortly after.

Niccol’s statement said: “I am deeply saddened by the pain caused to the families of the victims, due to the wrongful distribution of our draft script for They Are Us. The script is far from final, and never intended to be shared with the affected members of the Muslim community at such an early stage.”

He said the sole purpose of the script “was to gauge interest of potential financiers”.

The Guardian has requested comment from Niccol via the film’s studio, FilmNation Entertainment, and Niccol’s agency, CAA.