They Are Us film should be made | The Jackal

12 Jun 2021

They Are Us film should be made

Rose Byrne to play Jacinda Ardern in controversial movie ‘They Are Us’

Framing is always an important aspect of media reports, especially when it comes to politics. In fact the way a story is framed can often determine whether a topic gains popular support or receives widespread public outrage.

That’s been the case with a proposed film called They Are Us, which will obviously be about the Christchurch mosque shootings that occurred on 15 March 2019 during Friday Prayer, terrorism that shook New Zealand and dare I say the world to its core.

Not only did many mainstream media outlets in New Zealand report on the film in a way that fostered resentment towards the Prime Minister for the pivotal role she played after the terrorist attacks, they also took a lopsided approach to how the film might portray Muslims.

Yesterday the NZ Herald reported:

Christchurch mosque shootings: They are not us, and it hurts to be props in a Hollywood movie

As a Muslim, I have never had any faith in Hollywood. It is an industry that for decades was the only source of information for billions of people on Islam and Muslims, and what they saw were monsters marionetted on screen to sell cinema tickets.

Grotesque antagonists screaming nonsensically, cloaked in black, firing AK-47 rifles in the air before getting mowed down by Arnold Schwarzenegger or Sylvester Stallone or Harrison Ford or whatever heroic white saviour was in vogue that year.

Look, I get that Mohamed Hassan has misgivings about old Hollywood movies that typecast not just Muslims, but many ethnic minorities, in a bad light. However the fact that the producers of They Are Us have stated that the film won’t be promoting Brenton Tarrant’s terrorism should put his mind at ease.

Besides, the script has been written by a Kiwi, which should somewhat allay any fears that the film will somehow promote hatred towards Muslims. I mean if any director sought to blame the victims of the mosque shootings, they would likely need to get a job flipping burgers.

And here we are again, being spoken about but not spoken to. Our intimate and devastating trauma packaged and sold by yet another twinkle-eyed Hollywood producer. Our voices are irrelevant. Our bodies props on a set designed to tell someone else's fable.

Even I am surprised by how much this hurts. How angry it makes me. But it's a reminder the pain is still fresh. These wounds have not healed. I write this from a place of utter exhaustion. I am tired. I do not want to deal with this today, but here we are again.

The problem with Hassan’s argument is that a movie informing people of that horrendous day and the governments excellent response to it is more likely to help foster global awareness about racism rather than promote white supremacy. It is more likely to keep the atrocities of a racist gunman firmly in people’s minds, events that if told correctly could help deter such terrorism from happening again.

This is important because only through awareness can we hope to heal the hurt that has been caused by this type of ignorance and racism, and part of fostering awareness is a portrayal of these tragic events in popular media such as film. The alternative to that is silence, which will only be a solution towards more suffering. After all, silence is the abusers friend because it allows people to forget or ignore what has occurred.

Many of the details surrounding this film are still yet to be revealed, including whether Jacinda Ardern approved her likeness being represented on screen, how many of the Christchurch victims were consulted, and how the rest feel about their story being told in this way.

What seems clear is the gleeful tone of the press release, the passing mention of community consultation that feels like an afterthought added by a legal team to stave off social media backlash.

Obviously the PM doesn't need to approve of her likeness being represented on screen, but there are further misconceptions here that also need to be addressed.

Firstly, the directors clearly did consult family members of the terrorist attack and the film hasn’t yet been made, so any assumptions about what it might portray, outside of what has already been published by the producers, is all a bit hasty.

It should also be stated for the record that a number of Muslims played a pivotal role in confronting the gunman and saving lives, which any director would be remiss if they failed to incorporate into their film. For Hassan to believe that a Kiwi director will disrespect these heroes is his fear and not reality speaking.

Furthermore, presuming that Muslims will be used as some sort of prop to promote Jacinda Ardern, when her own commendable response to the tragedy is promotion enough, completely disregards the professionalism and previous work of director Andrew Nicoll.

Demanding the arts be silent about New Zealand's worst terrorist attack will only foster ignorance...and ignorance is what white supremacists like Brenton Tarrant rely on to spread their hatred.