Why a movie about the Christchurch shootings is stirring controversy in New Zealand

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Rose Byrne
Rose Byrne Roy Rochlin/Getty Images for Paramount Pictures

News of an upcoming movie about the 2019 Christchurch massacre isn't going over well in New Zealand, and amid the backlash, one producer has already dropped out.

Rose Byrne is set to star as New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in They Are Us, a movie centered around the aftermath of the shootings that left 51 people dead at two mosques in 2019, as Variety reported. Directed by Andrew Niccol, the film was described as an "inspirational story about the young leader's response to the tragic events, and the remarkable achievements of her government and citizens who rallied behind her message of compassion and unity to ban assault rifles in New Zealand."

But the film is sparking backlash in New Zealand due to its reported plans to focus more on Ardern than on the victims of the attack and the Muslim community, The New York Times reports. A petition calling for They Are Us to be canceled because it "side-lines the victims and survivors and instead centres the response of a white woman" has drawn more than 60,000 signatures.

"The issue is that the film is about Jacinda Ardern, but it's not her story to tell," Adibah Khan, a spokesperson for New Zealand's National Islamic Youth Association, told the Times, while Iranian-New Zealand writer Ghazaleh Golbakhsh compared this to the kind of films "you would probably see in the 1920s or '30s in Hollywood, where white saviors go into the desert."

Amid this controversy, producer Philippa Campbell on Monday withdrew from the film, criticizing the fact that its promotion "did not take enough account of the political and human context of the story," The Washington Post reports. Ardern has also criticized the movie, saying, "I agree that there are stories that at some point should be told from March 15. But they are the stories from our Muslim community so they need to be at the centre of that."

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