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Muslim leaders wary of timing and content of Christchurch terror attacks movie

The Muslim Association of Canterbury is questioning whether it is an appropriate time for a film to be made about the Christchurch mosque attacks.

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There has been a strong reaction to news a movie drama about the aftermath of the Christchurch atrocity is being planned. Source: 1 NEWS

A movie starring Australian actress Rose Byrne as Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is to be made about the aftermath of the deadly mosque attacks.

The Hollywood media outlet Deadline reports that the movie, which has the working title They Are Us, will focus on Ardern's response to the attacks and her message of compassion and unity.

A composite image of actress Rose Byrne and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Source: 1 NEWS

Muslim Association of Canterbury spokesperson Abdigani Ali said the attacks were still raw for the community.

He said there were still many sensitivities around the tragic events of March 15.

"Although recognition of our prime minister for her response to attacks is well deserved, we question the timing and whether a movie is appropriate right now," Ali said.

He said the producers needed to ensure they had read the findings of the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the attacks, and to understand that New Zealand's intelligence agencies had an exclusive focus on a terrorist threat from the Muslim community prior to the attacks.

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

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He said there was still a lot of work to be down in New Zealand in terms of hate speech laws, recognising Islamophobia and institutional prejudice before a blockbuster comes out stating what a great job had been done in New Zealand.

Islamic Women's Council spokesperson Anjum Rahman said she was deeply uncomfortable at the idea of filmmakers profiting from the Christchurch mosque attacks and any narrative that was not victim-centred.

Rahman told Midday Report she only discovered the movie was being made through social media today and was alarmed by the reported narrative of the story.

"We would prefer to see a film that centres on the victims of the attacks and their families, that centres the story of the Muslim community. Obviously, as part of the aftermath, the way the prime minister dealt with the incident is certainly part of that story, which needs to be told, but shouldn't be centred...

"The way the Muslim community responded to the attacks has to be a huge part of that story."

She said if the movie did go ahead the producers needed to engage with the community so the story could accurately reflect the nature of white supremacy and the consequences of marginalising and denigrating a community.

"Those things have to be central to the story. It's a very sensitive topic and to do it justice you need to do it well and consider all those points," she said.

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She said it was not too early to tell the story, if it was told correctly.

"I think it's important for people to understand these issues right now and understand the impacts of demonisation and dehumanisation. I think it's really timely to be telling the story."

Rahman said any money made from telling the story should go towards helping the community affected by the atrocity.

"One of my other concerns would be around where the profits of any such movie would go. I feel deeply uncomfortable with anything profiting from the tragedy of other people," she said.

Imam of the Al Noor mosque, one of the two mosques targeted in the 2019 terror attacks, Gamal Fouda, said after the attacks he and others in the local community were approached by a number of people interested in making a film about the attacks.

He said if the film went ahead he hoped it would stick to the facts and focus on peace and love.

"It is important if the movie is going to reflect the facts and what actually happened, rather than sending confusing messages. If it is going to focus on peace and love and the connection, and conculsion and if it is going to contribute to something positive.

"But if they are actually going to confuse people and send confusing messages then I think it is not going to something professional and not accepted."

He said the Muslim community in Christchurch was very diverse and were bound to have very diverse feelings about the prospect of a film about the attacks.

Ali said the film could be a chance to raise attention to the issue of Islamophobia.

"Extremism has no religion, or faith, colour or ethnicity. It is important to stress this fact. Extremism is not Christian, or Jewish or Muslim. It is about criminals, and those criminals should be referred to as criminals only, without their faith or ethnicity."

Community member Tony Green said he was uncomfortable with the movie.

He knew nothing of it until this morning, and was concerned by the reported focus on Ardern's actions.

He said the community was still in the midst of anguish, and while the praise for the prime minister was well deserved it could not gloss over the cost of the attacks.

No one he had spoken to in the Christchurch mosque community was happy with the planned film, he said.

Film's producers seek to reassure Muslim community

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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

The film's producers said they wanted to reassure members of the Christchurch Muslim community that they understood the responsibility of telling the story of the attacks.

One of the producers of the film, Auckland based Philippa Campbell, said they were not able to speak to everyone as part of their research but had spoken to a considerable number of people from the mosques and family members of the victims.

She said they wanted to reassure members of the Muslim community in Christchurch and New Zealanders more generally that they understood the responsibility of telling this story.

The film's writer and director, Andrew Niccol, said the film would take place from Friday to Friday, from the prayer day when a gunman chose to murder Muslims to the following prayer day when New Zealand chose to honour them.

In a statement he said that instead of focusing on the attack, it would focus on the response to the attack.

"The acts of heroism and sacrifice, acts of compassion, charity and courage that occurred during that remarkable of weeks - when Jacinda Ardern set an example of leadership to the world. How you can be strong and kind ... and bring about real change."

The movie would be filmed in New Zealand but the producers said they wanted to have a minimal impact on the city of Christchurch.

It does not yet have a start date for filming.

rnz.co.nz