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Christchurch Attack Film Stops Pre-Production After Backlash from Muslim Community

Andrew Niccol's film starring Byrne as Jacinda Ardern is being paused until consultation with New Zealand's Muslim community can take place.

FILE - In this Sept. 27, 2019, file photo, Rose Byrne attends the world premiere of "The Irishman" at Alice Tully Hall during the opening night of the 57th New York Film Festival in New York. Hollywood news outlet Deadline reported that Byrne was set to play New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in the movie “They Are Us,” which was being shopped by New York-based FilmNation Entertainment to international buyers. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File)

Rose Byrne

Evan Agostini/Invision/AP

The planned film “They Are Us,” starring Rose Byrne as New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern and centered on the Christchurch mosque shootings that took place in 2019, has been put on hold following unauthorized distribution of the script. Director Andrew Niccol (“Gattaca,” “Good Kill”) shared a statement with New Zealand outlet Newshub that development would be paused after criticisms that the script, which he also wrote, was insensitive. (Via The Guardian.)

“I am deeply saddened by the pain caused to the families of the victims, due to the wrongful distribution of our draft script for ‘They Are Us.’ The script is far from final, and never intended to be shared with the affected members of the Muslim community at such an early stage,” Niccol said, adding that pre-production wouldn’t continue until there is “full consultation with New Zealand’s Muslim community has taken place.”

“The sole purpose of the script, which was released without permission, was to gauge interest of potential financiers. It was given to them in the strictest confidence and all were informed that this was not intended to be the final version. All scenes in the script are placeholders until we have completed further consultation with the families,” he said.

The film had already sparked frustration and outcry from among the Muslim community of New Zealand earlier in the summer, with criticisms that the premise was “obscene” and “insensitive.” It centers around Ardern’s response to the attack.

“Our hope for this firm, conceived by producer Ayman Jamal, which will take years to complete, is that it will honour the survivors, and the lives lost. It will serve as a testament to the acts of heroism and sacrifice that took place on that tragic day.”

Niccol added that it is the filmmakers intentions to “show the world how a nation can respond to such a tragedy. New Zealand’s embrace of its Muslim community is a testament to the strength of human solidarity and compassion. From its inception, we wanted to tell the story of how an unprecedented act of hatred was overwhelmed by an outpouring of love. We are committed to ensuring that the voices of the affected Muslim community, and the voices of the wider community, will be heard moving forward.”

After the script leaked in June, a petition was launched to shut down development on the movie. Producer Philippa Campbell resigned from the project shortly thereafter.

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