Film about Christchurch attack accused of 'whitewashing'

Upcoming Christchurch attack film accused of 'whitewashing' with focus on PM Ardern rather than victims
3 min read
11 June, 2021
New Zealand's Muslim community have reacted negatively to the news that a film about the Christchurch attack will focus of Jacinda Ardern.
Prime Minsiter Ardern was praised at the time for her response to the attacks [Getty]

An upcoming film about an attack in Christchurch, New Zealand, which left 51 Muslim worshippers dead, has been branded as "distasteful" by the country's Muslim community for its alleged focus on the country's prime minister, rather than the victims.

They Are Us, which will star actress Rose Byrne as New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, will depict the attack on 15 March, 2019, and the events following it. 

"I think the movie in itself is very distasteful. It completely feeds into this white saviour mentality complex and I think it's just completely insensitive, particularly in light of the reality that many of the victims of the Christchurch terrorist attack and their families continue to face,” Guled Mire, a New Zealand writer, told 1 NEWS.

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Critics of the film have said that they have no objection to the film in principle, but that the focus should be on the victims of the attack and not Ardern. 

“We need to be able to honour the stories, the legacies, the victims and the communities that have been impacted by this. Centring those perspectives on a white woman and how she chose to respond in just those initial days is not what we need right now, that's not what we need and that's not what the rest of the world needs,” added Mire. 

A spokesperson for Ardern's office said that neither Ardern nor the government of New Zealand had any involvement in the film. 

Mire said that the response of Ardern’s office did not go far enough, and that the prime minister should have been vocal in her condemnation. 

"Right now that silence from her and her Government indicates that actually they're very much comfortable with this white saviour depiction and it's very much in their interest to do so," he said. 

Responding to the criticism, the film’s makers said that the story will "absolutely" feature stories from everyone involved in the terrible events. 

“We also believe what was achieved by Ms Ardern's Government, particularly in terms of gun control, was exemplary,” they said in a statement to 1 NEWS.

Shortly after the film was announced, a petition was started that called for film industry players to refuse to work on the project and for Ardern to publicly denounce the film. 

"The film centres white voices and therefore will continue to white-wash the horrific violence perpetrated against Muslim communities," the petition read. 

The petition also questioned a claim that the script had been written with consultation from several members of the mosques that were targeted, claiming that "many members of the Christchurch Muslim community have no knowledge of the film."

Relatives of those who were killed have also questioned the nature and purpose of the film. 

"Without knowing the context of the movie I'm not sure I can put a positive spin to it. It seems like it’s just capitalising on what happened here, and I don’t think it will be well received in New Zealand," said Aya Al-Umari, whose brother Hussein was killed in the attack. 

At the time of writing, the petition has garnered more than 5,000 signatures.