The leaked draft script for a controversial film depicting the Christchurch Mosque shooting has been described as “worse than the livestream” by those who lost family members in the attack.
The proposed film, They Are Us, which takes its name from Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s comments following the massacre of 51 Muslim worshipers at al Noor Mosque and Linwood Islamic Center in 2019, was announced in June. The massacre was broadcast live on Facebook by the gunman.
The filmmakers offered to focus on Ardern’s response in the aftermath of the attack, which immediately sparked backlash for centering the story on the leadership of a white woman. Many Muslim New Zealanders criticized the move as “exploitative”, “insensitive” and “obscene”.
The film’s announcement also sparked an online petition that received nearly 75,000 signatures and forced the film’s producer, Philippa Campbell, to resign from the project.
The 124-page script, written by New Zealand-born Andrew Niccol, was leaked in Newshub on Sunday.
Earlier this year, Niccol told The Hollywood Reporter, “They Are Us is not so much about the attack as it is the response to the attack … how an unprecedented act of hatred was overcome by a wave of love and support. “.
But Newshub reports that 17 pages of the draft script are devoted to the attack, which would translate to 17 minutes on film, and 15 deaths are depicted in graphic detail. Newshub also reports that facts about real people have been changed.
Parts of the script show the terrorist in the moments before entering the mosque, accompanied by a “jarring and threatening sound”.
Later in the script, the writers describe a silhouette of the shooter and note that it is “more of the shooter than we’ll ever see.” The lack of a clear visual context of the shooter somehow makes the event more shocking, more frightening – we are left mainly with the brutality of the sound of the incessant gunfire ”.
Salwa Mohamad, whose husband, Khaled, and son, Hamza Mustafa, were murdered at al Noor mosque, told Newshub that the violence in the film was “worse than the live broadcast.”
Anjum Rahman, spokesperson for the Islamic Council of Women of New Zealand, added that the leaked draft may be an earlier version of the script, but the project as a whole “goes beyond belief.”
“These are absolutely not people affected by the tragedy of this film, in any way.”
Rahman did not read the script, but said the depiction of violence she saw in Newshub’s screenshots was dangerous, especially since there were either planned or carried out after the massacre.
“The livestream is reprehensible material in New Zealand. For depicting it in graphic detail on the screen like that, I don’t understand what it is for, ”said Rahman.
Aya Al-Umari, whose brother Hussein was killed in the attack, also did not read the script, but said she was deeply disturbed by what she saw reported.
“It’s just plain wrong on so many levels. It affected many people beyond the reach of the victims directly affected. Anyone who has been exposed to [livestreamed] the video is traumatized by it – to see it turned into drama and capitalize on it is a mistake on so many levels. “
Al-Umari made a distinction between a documentary, which sets the bar higher for factual reporting, and dramatization that takes a creative license with real-life experiences.
“How would they feel if it was their brother, sister, mother or father who was shot and broadcast live that way and someone was going to make a movie about it?” ” she said.
Writer and community advocate Guled Mire said the storyline appeared to be the opposite of what the filmmakers initially proposed, which was to focus on the aftermath of the attack.
“They are literally flipping the script,” he said.
Telling stories of Islamophobia and white supremacy should be reserved for those with lived experience, who can tell those stories with care and delicacy, he said.
Mire said filmmakers were not listening to community concerns and Australian actress Rose Byrne, who is expected to play Ardern in the film, should respond to criticism.
“She hasn’t answered why she’s supporting this yet and she’s got a lot of weight.”
The Guardian has contacted the film’s studio, FilmNation Entertainment, and Niccol’s agency, CAA, for comment.