14 Jun 2021

Mosque attacks: Auckland-based producer Philippa Campbell withdraws from working on movie

12:46 pm on 14 June 2021

An Auckland-based producer has withdrawn from the crew working on a proposed film about the aftermath of the Christchurch terror attacks.

Jacinda Ardern and Rose Byrne

The movie is set to star Australian actress Rose Byrne as Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Photo: RNZ / AFP

The movie, They are Us, will focus on the prime minister's response in the week following the attacks, and is set to star Australian actress Rose Byrne as Jacinda Ardern.

Ardern said in a statement that plenty of stories from 15 March could be told, and she does not consider hers to be one of them.

New Zealand's Muslim community has come out against the film, saying the focus on the prime minister, rather than the victims, is wrong, and it is just Hollywood profiting off the community's pain.

More than 58,000 people have so far signed a petition to shut the production down.

In a statement, producer Philippa Campbell said she deeply regrets the shock and hurt the announcement of the film has led to throughout Aotearoa New Zealand.

No caption

Producer Philippa Campbell. Photo: Provided

Campbell said she listened to the concerns raised over recent days and heard the strength of people's views.

She now agrees that the events of 15 March, 2019 are too raw for film at this time and does not wish to be involved with a project that is causing such distress.

She said the film did not take enough account of the political and human context of the story.

'It's embarrassing'

The executive editor of the entertainment industry magazine Variety, Steve Gaydos, said the film's producers are now facing "a tremendous problem" given the reaction which has been reported in the US.

The film's intentions were positive - peace, tolerance and saying no to hate, he told Morning Report.

"However, the process of getting to where they are and the substance of the way the story is being told ... so focused not on the victims, but the prime minister, I think they probably have not just a big perception problem but they do have a screenplay problem and a production problem."

Given that production has not started, it would be possible for the producers to have a rethink or even abandon the project without incurring much expense.

"It's embarrassing and it's also slightly distressing and I think the community and the power of the community to speak out with one voice and say: 'This isn't the way we really want to see this story told' - that is very much something of the moment that I don't think we ever go back to the way things were."

Producers of Norwegian film got it right - petition organiser

National Islamic Youth Association co-chair Sondos Qur'aan is among the petition organisers.

She is also a worshipper at Al Noor Mosque in Christchurch and knew many of those who died and also knows those who were injured.

She told First Up the movie would sensationalise the events of 15 March which was "still so raw two years on" and it was insensitive not to put the Muslim experience at its centre.

"Any story that is to be told about March 15th should be told through the lens of the Muslim community and capture the lived experiences of racism, discrimination and Islamophobia that Muslims face globally."

She said the film that was made about the murders by a white supremacist of 77 young people in Norway was "profound and insightful".

Survivors wanted the film to be made, were fully consulted and the story of one victim and his family was central to its theme.

The Hollywood producers would do well to take a lead from the approach adopted in Norway, she said.

Qur'aan said she was amazed at the support the petition had received so far with many people posting heartfelt messages on social media as well.

National Islamic Youth Association officer Adibah Khan said it has been encouraging and empowering to have so much backing for the petition.

She said the support was a continuation of the aroha that the Muslim community experienced after the attacks.

Adibah Khan

National Islamic Youth Association officer Adibah Khan. Photo: SUPPLIED

While she could not speak for the entire Muslim community, she said she was sure there was a growing concern among members about the lack of consultation on the project.

She said Inshallah (God willing) it would be abandoned.

"I truly do believe with the amount of support that we've received both from the Muslim community as well as outside the Muslim community I think there is a lot of awareness on it and a lot of public backlash.

"So if was to go ahead it would have significant implications."

She called on the New Zealand film sector not to support it in any way including funding or resources.

"If the film does go ahead we would ask for a boycott."

First Up contacted three of the film's four producers and did not receive a response.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs