Christchurch Hollywood massacre sparks anger in New Zealand

AUCKLAND, New Zealand – A planned Hollywood film about the Christchurch Mosque massacre has sparked a backlash in New Zealand, with Muslims denouncing the director’s decision not to focus on the pain and resilience of the community, but rather on the response of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

More than 60,000 people have signed a petition calling for the closure of the film. Ms Ardern released a statement distance yourself from the film, on which she said she had not been consulted. The mayor of Christchurch said film crews would not be welcome in his city, and a New Zealand producer dropped production on Monday.

Some Muslims said the film, as offered, would exploit their trauma and engage in “white saviorism” by making Ms. Ardern the central character.

“It really is extremely hurtful,” said Guled Mire, a Fulbright scholar at Cornell University and a member of the Muslim community in New Zealand. He added that he and others had only heard about the film through social media. “The grief is still very deep for many victims, their families and for the community as a whole. “

The film, announced Thursday, is titled ‘They Are Us’, taking its title from Ms Ardern’s comments on the Muslim community after the 2019 shooting at two mosques in which more than 50 people died. It would star Australian actress Rose Byrne as the grieving Ms. Ardern.

The director of the film, the New Zealand screenwriter Andrew Niccol, told Deadline that “the film is about our common humanity, which is why I think it will speak to people all over the world.” He added: “This is an example of how we must react when there is an attack on our fellow human beings.”

While Ms Ardern has been hailed around the world for her compassionate response to the massacre, Muslims in New Zealand have said the film’s focus on her is part of a long Hollywood model of marginalizing minority populations. .

“It was quite shocking to see that in 2021 we are still making these movies that you would probably see in the 1920s or 1930s in Hollywood, where the white saviors go to the desert,” Ghazaleh Golbakhsh said, an Iranian-New Zealander. writer, scholar and filmmaker. “It all goes back to this kind of colonialist and orientalist fantasy. “

Although reports in the US media suggested that the Muslim community had consulted about the film, several members said they did not know anyone who had been involved in the project.

“The problem is, the film is about Jacinda Ardern, but that’s not her story to tell,” said Adibah Khan, spokesperson for the National Association of Islamic Youth of New Zealand, which organized the petition. “This is the story of the victims and their community of victims, and the truth is that they were not consulted at all.

Mohamed Mostafa, whose father was killed in the attacks, said he felt exploited by the film project. “Someone is trying to exploit my pain, my agony and my suffering – and for what benefit? ” he said.

He added that white saviorism was a false narrative. “There are no saviors here because we have 51 victims in history,” he said. “If we had a savior, we wouldn’t have casualties.

Ms. Golbakhsh compared the proposed film to “Green Book”, the Oscar-winning film that was dismissed by critics as a “fantasy of racial reconciliation”.

“It’s kind of encouraging the idea that any non-white person is either too weak or not as interesting, and therefore kind of pushes them into the background, as a non-three-dimensional character,” a- she declared.

A report of Annenberg Inclusion Initiative published last week found that Muslims, who make up almost a quarter of the world’s population, made up less than 2% of the speaking characters in the highest-grossing films made between 2017 and 2019. Almost 20% of Muslim characters who appeared were killed by the end of the film, often in a violent death.

“I sincerely hope that this project will be canceled and that we will never hear from it again,” Mostafa said. “When we’re ready to tell the story, maybe someday we will. And that will be our story to tell.

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