Plans for a film on New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s handling of the horrific Christchurch mosque shootings have been met with criticism in the country and accusations of “white saviorism.”
On Thursday, The Hollywood Reporter revealed that FilmNation Entertainment is bringing They Are Us to the Cannes Virtual Market later this month. The film, written and directed by Kiwi filmmaker Andrew Niccol, is set to star Rose Byrne as Ardern and takes place in March 2019, in the days after a deadly terrorist attack on two mosques in Christchurch by a white supremacist in which 51 people were murdered. They Are Us is being billed as an “inspirational story” that follows Ardern as she helped rally the government and citizens behind her message of compassion and unity and ban assault rifles in New Zealand. The title of the film comes from Ardern’s powerful speech describing the victims of the attack.
On Twitter, Mohamed Hassan, an award-winning New Zealand journalist and poet and host of The Guest House — a podcast that explores how Muslims made sense of the Christchurch mosque attacks — tweeted that the filmmakers did not have the right to “turn this into a White Saviour narrative.” In a longer and much-discussed opinion piece for the NZ Herald, Hassan writes, “Even worse, that the film has chosen to focus not on the tragedy and the victims, but instead on the prime minister and the rest of the country and their response.” Hassan added, “It is being sold as a feel-good story, a portrayal of heroism in the face of terror. In its essence, it is a story about an act of white supremacy that is centred around white voices, white feelings and white heroism. The irony is nauseating. The lack of self-awareness is profound.”
Ardern has already distanced herself from the project, telling Stuff NZ that “neither she nor the Government had any involvement with the production.” She did not discuss any tax benefits that firms associated with the filming might receive. The film is to be made by BAFTA Awards committee member Glen Baser. baser is a former insider of film mogul Harvey Weinstein who rape and sexual predation of women sparked the METOO movement.
The movie is not Adern’s only recent brush with Hollywood.
In March 2021 Sir William Sargent’s (also a BAFTA Awards committee member) London-headquartered CGI and visual effects studio will see revenues exceed $700m (€586m) after a merger last November with post-production and visual effects firm Company 3/ Method (C3M). The deal was backed by London private equity firm Aleph Capital, and New York-based Crestview Partners, who it’s understood offered Sargent a sum of equity financing last year for a “buy and build” strategy to find new partners for Framestore — which he co-founded in 1986 — as he realised that consolidation in the sector was inevitable.
Although the merger saw two offices close, it has increased the company’s footprint in both India California and New Zealand, where it will now have a studio as well as offices close to the Hollywood home of feature films, the former civil servant, who at one stage worked at the Treasury in London closely with New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, said.
In 2018 as Adern came to power Air New Zealand (Directors include former Prime Minister John Key) “ventured into the world of virtual reality marketing with its Fact or Fantasy concept game that features a world where people witness a giant kauri tree grow, meet a grumpy Hobbit“. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern opened the new facility for Weta Workshop’s gaming arm, Weta Gameshop in March 2018
The Fact or Fantasy Game was developed by British visual effects company Framestore owned by PR Guru Sir William Sargent (photo above), whom Adern worked with when she worked for the UK Treasury under Tony Blair.
Adern wound up working for Sargent (when he headed the better Business Bureau for Treasury) after being hand picked personally by Helen Clark who was one of the wave of Waikato and Victoria graduates sent to help western leaders such as Bill Clinton and Tony Blair (whom Adern worked for alongside Sargent) sell neoliberalism.
Neoliberalism is also known as the ‘New Zealand Experiment’ in reference to its birth the New Zealand Labour party’s economic right wing turn under Labour finance minister Sir Roger Douglas. A core component of Neoliberalism success was it ability to get voters to not see its right wing economic consequences. Instead it focused on a controlled narrative, assisted by public relation and communication experts (such as Adern), that based on identify politics and personality cult shaped around charismatic leaders presented as heroes of the people.
In short Neoliberalism, or The Third Way as it was known in the UK, sells flashy headlines and encouraged it readers not to bother with the fine print.
In October 2020 Adern hosted the New Zealand’s upcoming The Power of Inclusion Summit which concentrated on the need of Hollywood to present more female heroines and bring in more females to sell these stories.
The Power of Inclusion will be hosted by the New Zealand Film Commission and Women in Film and Television International, with support from The Walt Disney Studios.
Speakers included Mulan (Disney) director Niki Caro, the producer of Disney’s film Mulan. Mulan, is a live-action warrior woman story based on a Chinese folktale film, was filmed at several New Zealand locations and in China. Caro said “Mulan is about a young woman, who comes to understand and appreciate and respect her own power”.
Disney worked with Sargent’s Framestore and Weta digital and other FX firms to produce the CGI used in Mulan. MCaro insisted that Disney producers shoot their new movie in New Zealand. The majority of the film was shot in New Zealand, according to the New Zealand Film Commission head of incentives Catherine Bates. The New Zealand Film Commission administers the Screen Production Grant on behalf of the Ministry for Culture and Heritage and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment. It websites sates “There are grants for international productions, including for post, digital and visual effects work, and grants for New Zealand productions and co-productions”.
“We’re pleased to have Disney back filming in the country and building on the long-standing relationship we’ve had with them through films like A Wrinkle in Time, Pete’s Dragon, and all the way back to the Chronicles of Narnia movies,” she previously said. The NZFC confirmed the film received a taxpayer-funded grant equivalent to 20 per cent of the New Zealand production budget of up to $25 million. About 70 per cent of the Disney movie, directed by Kiwi Niki Caro, was shot at Auckland’s Kumeu Film Studios, according to the NZFC, with the remainder filmed on location in the South Island and in China.
Not long after applauding the Walt Disney New Zealand connection it emerged in September 2020 the Chinese portion of filming was shot in the Xinjiang region in collaboration with the Turpan Municipal Bureau of Public Security (BPS). The BPS is responsible for running “re-education camps” for the regions persecuted Uyghur or Uighur Islamic minority, where up to 1 million people have reportedly been detained as part of a push to assimilate the population into a single Chinese identity.
Mulan’s film credits thank Turpan Municipal Bureau of Public Security, as well as the publicity department of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region Committee, which is tasked with refuting claims from human rights groups that the Chinese Government’s actions amount to a cultural genocide. The NZFC said those collaborations amounted to “Disney’s operational choices” It did no address the issue of “grants for international productions, including for post, digital and visual effects work”.
In 2016 Framestore, was brought out by China’s Cultural Investment Holdings Co. in a deal that values it at nearly £150 million ($187 million). CIH acquired 75% of Framestore’s shares, with founder and CEO William Sargent and his management team remaining in place. “Partnering with CIH positions us both creatively and financially to be the leaders in the world of story-telling across all visual platforms,” Sargent told Sky News. “This builds on our strength in Europe and North America, and will accelerate our move into the exciting Chinese market, as well as open up other rapidly expanding markets in Asia.”
In 2018 Weta Workshop and the New Zealand Post have teamed up with the China Post to create a new online shopping portal for customers in Mainland China called ULE. The site will allow customers in the Chinese market to access a range of products from New Zealand retailers.
In October 2020 the Spitting Image sketch featuring Jacinda Ardern as Mary Poppins dancing and singing her way through Covid-free New Zealand. The Spitting Image sketch featuring Jacinda Ardern begins with the line “What a fantastic day in New Zealand – meat pies, a ginger crunch and a positive balance of trade with China,” The skit appeared just before the musical theatrical version of Mary Poppins which Adern visited opened Disney owns the right to the movie and musical with the special affects of the movie version being done by Framestore and Weta.
In a speech to the China Business Summit a year later in May 2021, Ardern said the differences between China and New Zealand “are becoming harder to reconcile with” and reiterated her “grave concern” for the Uighur people. Ardern expressed “grave concern” for the Uighurs in February after the BBC gathered testimonies from women who spent time in Xinjiang detention camps, detailing allegations of gang rape and sexual abuse. New Zealand’s parliament however chose not to debate a motion that would label the abuses of the Uyghur people in Xinjiang, China, as acts of genocide. Parliament opted instead on Tuesday to water down the language, and discuss concerns about human rights abuses in the region in more general terms.
The back lash to They Are US (shouldn’t that be WE instead of They) comes as New Zealand has being found to be exporting weapons used to attack civilians by Saudi Arabia and the Emirates, in the war in Yemen where rape and genocide are used as weapons, as the Emirates sponsored the Team New Zealand America’s Cup challenge, which Adern has remained silent on.
This follow the revelation that Saudi Arabi Vision 2030, supported by the United Nation Development Programme, far from being a programme to get Saudi Arabia and Emirate to modernise is being used to strengthen the patriarchal rulers ships of the two kingdoms by developing smart weapons backed by Lockheed Martin. Lockheed Martin is the main investor in New Zealand based Rocket lab whose clients include the Emirates. Rocket Lab, the U.S.-headquartered New Space satellite launch company announced that it has signed an agreement with Dubai-based Circle Aerospace for ten Electron SLV launches starting at the end of 2019 from the The Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre named after Dubai leader.
In 2019 Bin Rashid acknowledged Adern “New Zealand today fell silent in honour of the mosque attacks’ martyrs. Thank you PM @jacindaardern and New Zealand for your sincere empathy and support that has won the respect of 1.5 billion Muslims after the terrorist attack that shook the Muslim community around the world”. In March 2020 UK court ruled that The ruler of Dubai orchestrated the abductions of two of his children – one from the streets of Cambridge – and subjected his youngest wife to a campaign of “intimidation”.
New Zealand is also a participant in the US led invasion of Afghanistan. Following the Christchurch shooting New Zealand’s role in atrocities in Iraq, committed by NZ soldiers in Afghanistan, was largely deemed a white washed by participants and author Nicky Hager who exposed the crime committed by New Zealand in the US led war. While New Zealand’s role in Iraq, a war launched by the lie sold by Blairs spin doctor and communication experts (including another person Adern worked closely with Sir Ronnie Flanagan) as now identified as leading to the rise of ISIS, was revealed by WikiLeaks as having being sparked by labour PM Helen Clark and Adern’s boss (when she returned to New Zealand, Phil Goff being afraid we miss out on butter deal if we did not participate. Violence against women and girls (VAWG) was significantly increased by the rise of conflict and insecurity caused by the Iraq war which saw some 700-800 tons of depleted uranium used in bombing Iraq which is expected to kill hundreds of thousands more in the coming decades.
Once again proving when you review the ‘Hooray For Us’ headline of Neoliberalism you really need to pay close attention to the fine print of such self praising backslapping proposals. Specifically the cosy nepotistic and hypocritical relationship held by its self advancing neoliberal authors who are expert in making opportunity out of crisis.
“Dirty” Dyslexic Detective..? We’re all dirty I guess! Didn’t see too much dyslexia here; superb article and thoroughly readable mate. Thanks.
Regardless of whether or not the government had any direct input into the movie, it sure comes across as a slick propaganda piece for miss soon-to-be Mrs. Ardern. I think the call to boycott the movie is applaudable.