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Muslim community advocate slams terrorist attack film as 'distasteful' and 'white washing'

A movie about the Christchurch mosque attacks is being slammed as "distasteful" and "white-washing" by a Muslim community advocate, as it focuses on Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern rather than the victims of the attack.

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Guled Mire says They Are Us feeds into a "white saviour mentality" by focussing on Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern rather than the victims. Source: 1 NEWS

It was this morning revealed that Bridesmaids actress Rose Byrne was set to play Ardern in a new film called They Are Us.

Fifty-one Muslims were killed while they prayed at Al Noor Mosque and Linwood Islamic Centre on March 15, 2019. Many more were seriously injured.

Ardern received international recognition for her response to the terrorist attack.

"They Are Us is not so much about the attack but the response to the attack," New Zealand director and writer Andrew Niccol told The Hollywood Reporter.

"The film addresses our common humanity, which is why I think it will speak to people around the world."

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Hollywood star Rose Byrne to play Jacinda Ardern in film about Christchurch mosque attacks

However, the project has already been hit with criticism from the New Zealand's Muslim community.

"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 told 1 NEWS.

He said the Muslim community was fine with there being a movie about the terrorist attacks, but the focus on Ardern was just not right.

"Don't get me wrong, the response from Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was commendable and those initial days, I don't know any other international leader that would've responded the way that she did, but was it okay to pat ourselves on the back and then just zone in on that? No, absolutely not.

"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."

Mire said while he was proud of how the nation responded to the attacks, the focus of the movie was gaslighting the reality of New Zealand's racism, and that it showed the Government was seeking to capitalise on that distorted reality of New Zealand.

In a statement to 1 NEWS, a spokesperson for Ardern said the prime minister and the Government had no involvement with the film.

But the spokesperson did not respond to questions regarding criticism of the film.

Mire said that wasn't good enough and that Ardern should come out in disapproval of the film.

"I accept whole-heartedly the fact that she has no control in terms of who decides to depict a movie about her or write a book about her, but one thing that she has the absolute ability to do is to showcase her disapproval for things that are completely insensitive," he said.

"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.

"I've heard the Prime Minister on previous occasions talk about how her grief or her way of processing shouldn't overshadow the grief of the reality of what the victims continue to feel. That's the reality but I think she can put that into perspective and actually indicate her disapproval for the film and not to do so otherwise indicates that she's fully supportive and supports it."

In a statement to 1 NEWS today, filmmakers defended the story, though, saying the film will "absolutely" place heroes, both victims and rescuers, in the spotlight.

"We also believe what was achieved by Ms Ardern's Government, particularly in terms of gun control, was exemplary."

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But there’s criticism from one Muslim community advocate. Source: 1 NEWS

However, Mire added that Ardern's Government still had work to do to provide mental health support to those impacted by the 2019 attacks, as well as financial compensation and moves on hate speech laws.

"They're tapping into the vulnerabilities that are faced by the Muslim community right now, you know, many of these victims and their families have been not just socially and mentally impacted by this, but also financially, and that's an added layer of vulnerability."

Now, Mire is trying to rally the public to share #ShutItDown to put off potential funders of the film. He said the sentiment is something which many New Zealanders have gotten behind this morning on social media.

A NZ On Air spokesperson told 1 NEWS they hadn't funded the film.

"We're asking New Zealanders to very much indicate and showcase that actually this is not right. We as a country will not stand for this," Mire said.

"That's what white Hollywood is interested in - seeing a white woman wear a hijab and just say 'they are us', her own phrase that is so problematic and feeds into this othering narrative.

"No, I don't think we and the rest of New Zealand will take a stand for that so we're trying to get the film shut down, that's our priority right now."

When asked what his message to the filmmakers was, Mire said: "This is a terrible idea, shut this down, please, like just stop. This can't proceed any further. Just thinking about it actually has been quite distasteful and has pretty much ruined my day."

He said the focus of the movie should instead be on the history of white supremacy in New Zealand.

Spokesperson for Muslim Association of Canterbury Abdigani Ali said the terrorist attacks were still raw.

"We do recognise that the March 15th story will need to be told, but we would want to ensure that it's done in appropriate, authentic, and sensitive matter.

"There needs to be a lot of work done in New Zealand in terms of hate speech laws, recognising Islamophobia does exist in our society and the institutional prejudice within our government apparatus before a blockbuster film comes out stating that we've done a great job here in New Zealand."

Christchurch mosque shooter Brenton Tarrant was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole in August last year.

The sentence is the strongest available punishment available under New Zealand law and it has never been handed down before.

Send your news tips to Rebecca.Moore@tvnz.co.nz