They Are Us: Patrick Gower issues emotional plea to Kiwi director Andrew Niccol to scrap contentious film

Patrick Gower has made an emotional plea to the director of They Are Us to pull out of the contentious project after an early draft script for the film - exclusively obtained by Newshub - showed 17 pages are dedicated to a graphic recreation of the shooting that claimed the lives of 51 people.

The Hollywood production, which is currently in development, has attracted widespread condemnation for its plan to portray the aftermath of the Christchurch mosque attacks, the deadliest shootings in modern New Zealand history. Fifty-one people were murdered and 40 were injured in the two consecutive mass shootings at the Al Noor Mosque and the Linwood Islamic Centre in Christchurch on March 15, 2019, now remembered as one of New Zealand's darkest days.

Although producers have said the project will primarily focus on Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her response in the week following the massacre, the film is facing fierce backlash from survivors, families of the victims, and the public for exploiting the tragedy - with many saying the premise is insensitive and comes too soon after the devastation of March 15. Loved ones of those killed or injured in the attack came forward following the film's announcement to say they had not been contacted, nor consulted with, in regards to the project. 

Over the weekend, a draft copy of an early version of the script, exclusively leaked to Newshub, showed 17 pages are dedicated to a graphic recreation of the shooting, translating to around 17 minutes of screentime. 

Now, Newshub national correspondent Patrick Gower, the journalist who obtained access to the draft script, has made an emotional appeal to Andrew Niccol, the New Zealand screenwriter lined up to direct They Are Us, to pull out from the project. 

Speaking to The AM Show on Monday morning, Gower struggled to contain his emotion as he spoke of the project and the pain it has stirred in those connected to the tragedy. After viewing the draft script, Gower showed a small portion to Maha Elmadani, the daughter of a man who was murdered in the attack, to provide some insight into what the film will entail.

"It's really hurtful when I think about [Maha] because… it was really hurtful having to show her the script. It really hurt me personally having to see her anger to see it, but I knew some people had to see it to tell people what was in it," Gower told The AM Show.

"She found it terrifying. She was disgusted by the portrayal of the terrorist. Her father is not named in the script. I asked her to read a small portion that showed how the terrorist would be portrayed. For me personally, it was devastating to put her through that. It made her angry, it made her sad. As a human being, to see her reaction, I felt terrible. But I knew there had to be some people that saw it from Christchurch that could come out and say, this is how it makes me feel."

Maha, who spoke to The AM Show prior to Gower on Monday morning, decried the draft script and told the programme she was "shocked and disgusted" by the producers' plan to recreate the shooting.

"When I went through [the draft script] and had a look at that first 17 minutes of what I call 'a glamorised livestream', it just made me feel sick to think that someone thought it was okay to script this out and essentially pocket big bucks off our trauma. My heart goes out to the families that are impacted directly, whose loved ones are being shown in such a brutal and inaccurate way," she told The AM Show. 

She called on both Jacinda Ardern and American actress Rose Byrne, who is lined up to play the part of the Prime Minister, to do more to put an end to the project. 

"I wish the producers and lead actress, Rose Byrne, would reconsider what they're getting involved in. If Byrne puts herself in any of the widow's shoes and asks herself - if that was [her] husband or son that was murdered, and someone comes and thinks they've got the entitlement to tell her story about the death of her loved one without consulting her, how would that make her feel? I would ask her to reconsider pulling out from this thing to begin with - don't associate yourself with something like this."

Gower echoed the call to action, urging director Niccol to listen to the survivors and the victims' families and their pleas to scrap the project. 

"Maha asked for Rose Byrne to pull out of the movie. We need Aotearoa New Zealand - [we] need someone to pull out of the movie, and the movie needs to stop," Gower said.

"I'm appealing to Andrew Niccol, as a New Zealander, the writer and director, to just pull out - and we can stop talking about it - and that's going to be better for everyone in this country.

"Seventeen pages is a long time. I've seen the rest of the script - it's all about Jacinda Ardern. They're a big part - but they are a bit part... they are being used."

Newshub spoke to several people who lost loved ones in the shooting - none of them had been consulted.

The early version of the script obtained by Newshub was shown to some of the victims, who described the draft's graphic portrayal of the shooting as worse than the livestream the terrorist used to broadcast his atrocities.

The producers of They Are Us have pointed out the script is still in development and is subject to change. The film's Dubai-based producer Ayman Jama told Newshub "any victim family who does not want to share their story we... will not mention or showcase their loved ones' stories".  

The film's producers also said they have consulted with the victims' families about the filmmaking process.

A petition set up by the National Islamic Youth Association (NIYA) to shut down the film's production has amassed more than 73,000 signatures.