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A lead producer on FilmNation’s beleaguered project exploring New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s leadership in the wake of the 2019 Christchurch mosque shootings has resigned from the film.
Titled They Are Us, the movie is written and directed by Kiwi filmmaker Andrew Niccol and is set to star Rose Byrne as Ardern in what the producers dubbed an “inspirational story” of recovery. But the project has become the subject of fierce criticism for the way it seems to sideline the Muslim victims of a white supremacist hate crime — in which 51 people were murdered — and recast the story as a “white savior” narrative.
The Hollywood Reporter was the first to report last Thursday that FilmNation Entertainment would be bringing They Are Us to the Cannes Virtual Market later this month.
On Monday, veteran New Zealand producer Philippa Campbell announced her resignation from the production in a statement to the media, writing: “I’ve listened to the concerns raised over recent days and I have heard the strength of people’s views. I now agree that the events of March 15, 2019 are too raw for film at this time and do not wish to be involved with a project that is causing such distress.”
Campbell, a well known figure throughout New Zealand’s theater scene and screen industries, produced New Zealand’s highest-grossing horror film ever, Black Sheep, as well as Jane Campion’s critically acclaimed TV series Top of the Lake and Top of the Lake: China Girl, among many other projects.
Her statement Monday added: “The announcement was focused on the film business, and did not take enough account of the political and human context of the story in this country. It’s the complexity of that context I’ve been reflecting on that has led me to this decision.”
New Zealand PM Arden was quick to distance herself from the project late last week, saying neither she nor her government had any involvement in the film. She has since joined the chorus of outright criticism of the proposed film. On Sunday, she said making a movie about the mosque attacks felt “very soon and very raw,” and that she shouldn’t be the focus of any such effort. “There are plenty of stories from March 15 that could be told, but I don’t consider mine to be one of them,” she said.
They Are Us is described as following Ardern in the aftermath of the assaults as she helped rally the government and citizens behind her message of compassion and unity and got assault rifles banned in New Zealand. The title of the film comes from Ardern’s powerful speech describing the victims of the attack.
As news of the film reached New Zealand, however, local media reported on a growing backlash with critics uncomfortable with the biopic’s focus on Ardern instead of Christchurch’s Muslim community, still grieving after the attack. On social media, the hashtag #TheyAreUsShutdown began to trend in New Zealand as survivors, Muslims, writers and activists reacted to the project.
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