Plans for a controversial film about the Christchurch terror attacks put on hold as the director apologizes to victims

A picture of Australian actor Rose Byrne.
Rose Byrne had been set to star as New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern. Mark Sagliocco/WireImage
  • Kiwi director Andrew Niccol was set to direct “They Are Us,” which dramatizes the Christchurch attacks.
  • Plans for the film have been heavily criticized for sidelining the 51 Muslim worshippers who were killed.
  • Niccol said he was “saddened by the pain caused to families of the victims.”
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A controversial Hollywood film titled “They Are Us” that dramatizes the Christchurch mosque terror attacks has been shelved following weeks of sustained public backlash in New Zealand.

In a statement given to local media in New Zealand, the film’s director Andrew Niccol announced that he had paused work on the film and he was “saddened by the pain caused to families of the victims.”

He added that the film’s development would stay on hold until “full consultation with New Zealand’s Muslim community” had taken place but he still hoped the film could be made.

“Our hope for this film, convinced by producer Ayman Jamal, which will take years to complete, is that it will honor the survivors, and the lives lost,” Niccol said in the statement.

Christchurch shooting
Students display the New Zealand national flag next to flowers during a vigil in Christchurch on March 18, 2019, three days after a shooting incident at two mosques in the city that claimed the lives of 50 Muslim worshipers. Anthony Wallace/AFP/Getty Images

The Christchurch terror attacks took place on March 15, 2019, when an Australian self-declared white supremacist called Brenton Tarrant opened fire on worshippers inside the Al Noor mosque in Christchurch. The gunman then drove to the Linwood Islamic Centre where he continued his attack, which he broadcast on Facebook Live.

In total, 51 people were killed and 49 others were injured, making it the deadliest shooting in New Zealand’s modern history.

Plans for Niccol’s film, which borrows its name from a phrase used in a speech by New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern following the attacks, faced almost immediate criticism on social media and beyond after The Hollywood Reporter reported that the film’s narrative would focus on Ardern’s response to the attacks rather than the 51 Muslim worshippers who were killed.

Initial reports in THR said that Niccol’s script had been developed “in consultation” with several members of the mosques affected by the tragedy.

However, members of the two mosques involved in the attacks told local news outlets that they had been “blindsided” by the film’s announcement.

An online petition to shut down the film’s production was launched by the National Islamic Youth Association and gathered over 75,000 signatures.

And Lianne Dalziel, the mayor of Christchurch, told local media that film crews would not be welcome in her city. The film’s producer, Philippa Campbell, resigned from the project shortly after. In a statement, she said the events of the attack were “too raw” to be dramatized.

Earlier this month, an early copy of the film’s script, written by Niccol, was leaked to the Kiwi broadcaster Newshub. According to the outlet, 17 pages of the 124-page draft script were dedicated to the Mosque attacks, and 15 deaths were described in graphic detail.

Newshub also reported that facts about real people involved in the attacks had been altered.

Salwa Mohamad, who lost both her husband and son at the attack on Al Noor mosque, told Newshub that the violence described in the script was “worse than the livestream.”

New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern, who was set to be portrayed in the film by Australian actor Rose Byrne, quickly distanced herself from the project following its announcement. During interviews with the local press, she confirmed that neither she nor the government had any involvement in the film.

She added that making a film about the Christchurch terror attacks felt “very soon and very raw” and that she should not be the focus of any such project.

“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.