The family of a woman killed during the Christchurch terror attack are urging Australian actress Rose Byrne from starring in a movie about the tragedy.
Byrne has been cast as Jacinda Ardern in the controversial movie centred on the New Zealand prime minister’s response to the 2019 Christchurch terror attacks.
The film is titled They Are Us, a phrase Ms Ardern used in the aftermath of the shootings, which killed 51 people and injured many more.
A petition has been launched by families of the victims calling for production to be stopped as they believe the film “side-lines the victims and survivors and instead centres the response of a white woman”.
“The film centres white voices and therefore will continue to white-wash the horrific violence perpetrated against Muslim communities,” the petition said.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern released a statement on Friday about the upcoming production, saying she was not consulted about their plans.
The family of victim Linda Armstrong has contacted Byrne directly, asking her to refuse the role, The New Zealand Herald reported.
“Now is not the time, and this is not the story,” Armstrong’s nephew Kyron Gosse wrote.
“Please, turn down the role and give us time to heal.”
Other have also spoken out against the film.
Aliya Danzeisen, Islamic Women’s Council of New Zealand national coordinator, expressed her disbelief at the film’s production, tweeting “what were they thinking?”.
Aya Al-Umari, whose brother Hussein was murdered in the attack, said it was insensitive, tweeting the classic Kiwi-ism “Yeah nah”.
“I don’t think this film will be received well in New Zealand. My guess is it’s Hollywood over-capitalising this,” she told AAP.
Auckland-raised journalist Mohamed Hassan said the movie appeared to centre on Ms Ardern at the expense of the impacted community.
“You do not get to tell this story. You do not get to turn this into a White Saviour narrative,” he tweeted.
“This pain is still fresh and real. This is upsetting, obscene and grotesque.”
What is They Are Us?
Acclaimed Kiwi director Andrew Niccol – who directed Gattaca and wrote The Truman Show – is behind the project, with Bridesmaids star Byrne cast as the New Zealand prime minister.
According to a report by US-based entertainment industry news outlet Deadline, the film is being produced in New Zealand, and has been developed in consultation with members of Canterbury’s Muslim community.
Mr Niccol has promised an uplifting movie.
“They Are Us is not so much about the attack but the response to the attack (and) how an unprecedented act of hate was overcome by an outpouring of love and support,” he is quoted as saying in the Deadline report.
“The film addresses our common humanity, which is why I think it will speak to people around the world.
“It is an example of how we should respond when there’s an attack on our fellow human beings.”
Last August, Australian man Brenton Tarrant was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole for carrying out the attack.
The full open letter to Rose Byrne:
I urge you to rethink your role as Jacinda Ardern in the movie They are Us. We know that a movie being made about what happened on that dreadful day is inevitable, however for now it is too soon. It was only 27 months ago that our country was thrown into shock and turmoil.
It was only 27 months ago that I had to google my aunt’s name to see if she was alive or dead. It was only 27 months ago that I stood in her grave, lowering her lifeless body into the ground. Please, give us time. It was only 15 months ago that the one-year remembrance was cancelled by the onset of Covid.
It was only 15 months ago that our family was forced to flee back home as borders shut, destroying our healing process. It was only 15 months ago that the terrorist pleaded guilty. Please give us time.
It was only nine months ago that I stood face to face with the terrorist in the Christchurch High Court to deliver my victim impact statement. It was only seven months ago that the Royal Commission’s report was released detailing that the terrorist’s intentions should have been picked up by our intelligence agencies. It was only two months ago that the gunman requested a court appearance to challenge his designation as a terrorist.
This story is far from over and for the families involved, we still live it every single day. Please, give us time. Two years is far too soon to be talking about Hollywood movies. In contrast: It took 85 years to release the Titanic movie. It took 16 years to release a 9/11 movie. It took six years to release the Deepwater Horizon movie.
The time will come for this story to be told. When the right time does arrive, it is important that the right story is told, a story that focuses on the true heroes of the day. Now is not the time, and this is not the story. Please, turn down the role and give us time to heal. Yours faithfully, Kyron Gosse (on behalf of the Gosse family).