Film's 'White Saviors' View of Attack Angers NZ

Project follows Ardern's response, not Muslim victims or families
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 14, 2021 5:00 PM CDT
Film's 'White Saviors' View of Attack Angers NZ
New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks at a National Remembrance Service on March 13 in Christchurch, New Zealand. The service marked the second anniversary of a massacre in which 51 worshippers were killed at two Christchurch mosques by a white supremacist.   (Mark Tantrum/Department of Internal Affairs via AP)

Plans for a film about the mosque massacre in Christchurch have met with shock and anger in New Zealand over the film's direction. The Hollywood film, They Are Us, centers on Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's reaction and leadership after the attack—not on any of the Muslim victims or their families, the New York Times reports. The title is a quote by Ardern, made after a white supremacist shot to death 51 people in two mosques in 2019. "The issue is that the film is about Jacinda Ardern, but it's not her story to tell," says a spokeswoman for the National Islamic Youth Association. "It's the story of the victims and their victim community, and the truth is, they haven't been consulted at all." Ardern agrees. "There are plenty of stories from March 15 that could be told, but I don't consider mine to be one of them," the prime minister says in a statement. The project was announced Thursday, with Australian actress Rose Byrne cast as Ardern, per Deadline.

The mayor of Christchurch said that while there's broad respect for Ardern's response, that's not the main story. "I'm absolutely appalled at this sense of entitlement from FilmNation," the US company behind the project, says Mayor Lianne Dalziel. She doesn't want film crews to show up in Christchurch, per RNZ. One New Zealand producer quit the project on Monday, and an online petition calls for the film to be canceled. It evokes the worst of old-time Hollywood, some said. "It was quite shocking to see that, in 2021, we are still making these films which you would probably see in the 1920s or '30s in Hollywood, where white saviors go into the desert," says an Iranian-New Zealand writer, academic, and filmmaker, per TVNZ. "It all kind of harks back to this kind of colonialist and Orientalist fantasy." Opposition has come from not just from New Zealand's Muslim population. "It's really good to see the Muslim and non-Muslim communities have rallied together," says a Muslim activist. (More New Zealand mosque shootings stories.)

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