They Are Us: Winston Peters calls on producers of Christchurch terror attack film to 'quit while they're behind' after viewing draft script

Former Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters has admonished the producers of the highly contentious They Are Us film for fictionalising elements of the Christchurch shooting and its aftermath in a draft script, the early version of the Hollywood production exclusively obtained by Newshub. 

The draft script for the film, which is currently in development, has already faced vehement condemnation for a graphic, 17-page reconstruction of the attacks on Al Noor Mosque and the Linwood Islamic Centre on March 15, 2019, now remembered as one of New Zealand's darkest days. Fifty-one people were murdered and 40 others were injured in the consecutive mass shootings, which targeted worshippers as they attended Friday prayer.

Following the depiction of the shooting, which would equate to roughly 17 minutes of screentime, the film will primarily focus on the aftermath of the attack and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's response over the following week.

Both survivors and the families of those murdered are calling for the project to be scrapped, with the daughter of one of the victims, Maha Elmadani, telling The AM Show earlier this week she was "shocked and disgusted" by the producers' plan to recreate the shooting, calling it a "glamorised" version of the livestream the terrorist used to broadcast his atrocities.

But the script has also been poorly received by leading political figures, with Winston Peters, former Opposition leader Simon Bridges and ACT Party leader David Seymour decrying the draft for portraying New Zealand's politicians through an Americanised lens. 

The early draft of the script, exclusively leaked to Newshub, shows They Are Us is primarily a Hollywood rewrite of New Zealand history, with one scene portraying Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in her nightwear, sobbing at the window - a depiction lawyer and political commentator Linda Clark has slammed as "sexist".

Winston Peters has been quick to pour scorn on the project, echoing calls for its producers to pull out from the film. He has rubbished the draft script for its Americanised angle and fictionalised elements, including the erasure of David Seymour and reworking events to paint politicians in a negative light. 

He told Newshub the producers should bin the project if they cannot remain true to the facts. 

"If the script - based not on fact, but on some spurious statements and spurious events - the best thing they can do is quit while they're behind," he said.

"It's not going to be a blockbuster I can assure you, because the factual circumstance will be destroyed before it even goes to its first premiere, if that's what their intentions are."

One scene in the draft script depicts Peters as "gently" holding Ardern "by the shoulder".

"Has there ever been a day like today?" she asks him.

He ponders the notion and in te reo Māori, responds: "He kotuku rerenga tahi," which is subtitled as "the white heron only flies once".

In another scene outlined in the draft, Peters ponders some of his historical comments, with the script making references to the phrase "Asian invasion" and comments he made about "Muslim immigrants".

He says: "If something I said in the past inspired the gunman in any way..."

But the former Deputy Prime Minister says the suggestion is utter nonsense.

They Are Us: Winston Peters calls on producers of Christchurch terror attack film to 'quit while they're behind' after viewing draft script
Photo credit: Newshub

"Well again, Hollywood has been seriously misinformed, as they have been past times on historic matters where New Zealand is concerned. And again, this was a foreign assassin, from Australia," he told Newshub.

"This is far too serious an issue for some cheap Hollywood script to try and make some money out of. I suggest they withdraw from the scene if they don't intend to be honest here."

Another fictionalised account in the early draft portrays former Opposition leader Simon Bridges as deeply opposed to the firearm law reforms Ardern proposed in the week following the attack, at one point delivering the line: "Come for our guns, you might get bullets."

In another scene, he points to an assault rifle and says: "If one of those worshippers had one of these they could have stopped this tragedy in seconds."

In reality, Bridges was supportive of the law change, telling Newshub the scripting is "entirely inaccurate and offensive", as well as a "misleading and dishonest Americanisation of what happened in our country".

And Seymour has been erased entirely, replaced with the fictional character Solomon Marsh - the leader of the fictional Independent Party - who is portrayed as staunchly opposed to gun reform, often regurgitating arguments made by the United States' powerful NRA lobby.

Speaking to The AM Show on Monday morning, Newshub national correspondent Patrick Gower - the journalist who obtained access to the draft script - made an emotional appeal to Andrew Niccol, the New Zealand-born screenwriter lined up to direct They Are Us, to pull out from the project. 

"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 are [the Muslim community] a big part - but they are a bit part... they are being used."

Newshub has issued questions to Niccol's agent, but is yet to receive a response.

The producers of They Are Us have pointed out the script is still in development and is subject to change.