NZ leader criticises film on mosque attacks amid backlash

WELLINGTON: New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern yesterday criticised a planned movie about her response to the 2019 Christchurch mosque attacks as poorly timed and focused on the wrong subject.

The US-backed film They Are Us has sparked backlash among New Zealand Muslims, with community leaders slamming it for pushing a "white saviour" narrative.

Ms Ardern said the attacks, when white supremacist gunman Brenton Tarrant ran amok at two mosques during Friday prayers, killing 51 and injuring another 40, remained "very raw" for many New Zealanders.

She said film-makers had not consulted her about the movie, which is set to star Australian actress Rose Byrne as the centre-left leader.

"In my view, which is a personal view, it feels very soon and very raw for New Zealand," Ms Ardern told TVNZ. "And while there are so many stories that should be told at some point, I don't consider mine to be one of them - they are the community's stories, the families' stories."

The movie's title references a line from a speech she gave in the immediate aftermath of the atrocity when she pledged to support the Muslim community and tighten gun laws.

A petition from the National Islamic Youth Association calling for the production to be shut down has gathered more than 58,000 signatures. The association said the proposed film "sidelines the victims and survivors and instead centres the response of a white woman".

It said the Muslim community had not been properly consulted about the project, which has been scripted by New Zealand writer- director Andrew Niccol (Gattaca, The Truman Show).

"Entities and individuals should not seek to commercialise or profit from a tragedy that befell our community, neither should such an atrocity be sensationalised," said association co-chair Haris Murtaza.

Muslim poet Mohamed Hassan said the film-makers needed to focus on members of the community that bore the brunt of the attacks, not use them as props in a feel-good story about Ms Ardern.

"You do not get to tell this story. You do not get to turn this into a white saviour narrative. This is not yours," he tweeted.

Tarrant, 30, was jailed for life without parole last year, the first time a whole-of-life term has been imposed in New Zealand. - AFP