They Are Us: Human Rights Commission backs calls to cancel Christchurch terror attack film

The Human Rights Commission is backing calls for a controversial film about the Christchurch mosque terror attacks to be cancelled.

Chief Human Rights Commissioner Paul Hunt says the filmmakers behind the proposed They Are Us film need to listen to the voices of the survivors and families of the victims.

The Hollywood movie is set to star Rose Byrne as Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and will focus on the response to the massacre at the mosques in which 51 people were murdered on March 15, 2019.

But the film's announcement was immediately condemned as "sickening", "insensitive" and "too soon" by commentators who felt it was exploiting a national tragedy and focusing too much on Ardern.

"We are still suffering and for the sake of the affected whanau of March 15 we would kindly request to have some patience when planning for such a movie or docudrama. This is not the time," wrote the March 15 Whānau trust, which represents 78 affected whānau of shuhada and wounded victims.

Now Hunt is throwing his support behind calls for the voices of the affected whānau and victims to be heard.

"The Human Rights Commission echoes the concerns expressed by the Muslim community concerning the reports of the They Are Us film," Hunt says in a statement on Tuesday.

"The lack of appropriate consultation, sidelining of those affected by focusing on the actions of the Prime Minister, and the short time since the horrific events of March 15 have all been raised as concerns for the Muslim community in respect of the film.

"As the Human Rights Commission, we hear the Muslim community and we encourage others to hear them as well when they say this film should not go ahead."

A petition calling for a film to be cancelled has gained more than 70,000 signatures. Its organisers say the film "centres white voices" and it's not appropriate for director Andrew Niccol - "someone who has not experienced racism or Islamaphobia" - to lead and profit off a story that's "not his to tell".

These points were elaborated on in a Newsroom article by anti-racism campaigner Guled Mire, who questioned Niccol's history of writing and casting non-white characters. 

"Niccol is not the screenwriter you call in when you want to write a movie about white supremacy, Islamophobia, racism or xenophobia," he wrote.

"The fact this proposed film has even surfaced is indicative of a worldwide industry that fails to understand Muslims and portrays us in a way that reinforces stereotypes and feeds into a white saviour narrative."

Hunt says he wants to see more dialogue regarding representation in stories and media to counter Islamophobia.

"As a country, we have a responsibility to do all we can to ensure that Muslim New Zealanders are represented accurately in stories," he says.

"Countering Islamophobia in the media is just one of many steps we need to take to build an inclusive society. While this is long-term work, we can start by listening to the views, and acting on the advice, of the communities directly affected by the terrorist attacks of March 15 2019."