Weaponising They Are Us: The Draft Script
You may recall that mass shooting at the Christchurch mosque a couple of years ago. It feels an eternity, of course, what with the shooting taking place in the Before Coronavirus era.
There is currently an attempt to make a film about the event, under the title They Are Us. Thus far it has attracted a fair amount of criticism, especially from the inhabitants of Christchurch, and from the local Muslim community, who feel that the tragedy is being exploited for external gain. I myself was on the fence a bit, since the unified response of all New Zealanders to the shooting is actually something worthy of celebration. One can focus on the positives of that horrible day, without turning it into a glorified Snuff Film or a Jacinda Ardern propaganda piece. It’d still be a tough needle to thread, of course, but I felt it could be done in theory.
After seeing the media leakage of sections from the draft script… my mind has changed dramatically. This is bad. This is very bad:
The proposed They Are Us film wouldn’t actually be about New Zealand in any meaningful sense. It’d simply be weaponising New Zealand for American Culture War purposes, and that is seriously offensive.
One thing to remember about New Zealand politics is that in contrast to the United States (or even Australia), gun-ownership is not a politicised issue. Only very small fringes actually care about the subject (in normal circumstances). Our gun regulations are written with the support of both big parties, and tend to be responsive to events, rather than an ideological football – the last big update of New Zealand firearm legislation was done in the aftermath of the Aramoana shooting three decades ago. And among people who do own guns… they are weapons for shooting animals (recreational or otherwise), or for target-shooting, not for “protecting” yourself.
As such, when the (conservative) Leader of the Opposition is shown parroting lines from American political conservatives on gun-ownership, it really grates. Especially when the guy in question was in favour of Ardern’s measures – the film script literally turns him into a Culture War Villain when he was nothing of the sort.
ACT leader David Seymour gets it even worse. Now, ACT is probably the only New Zealand political party that translates reasonably well to the US political system – specifically, they’d be the secular, business-friendly wing of moderate Republicans, and are the group in New Zealand most likely to hate Coronavirus lockdowns. They act as a sort of ideological pressure group on National the way the Greens do to Labour, and Seymour has been going to town on Free Speech issues these past few years.
But rather than treating ACT as a ‘classical liberal’ party, the film script reinvents them as the ‘Independence Party,’ crazy Christian gun-loving nutters. Seymour himself is replaced with (fictional) Solomon Marsh, a character who might well fit in with Australian One Nation types, but who really has very little to do with the actual New Zealand Right. Even New Zealand’s small Christian conservative parties don’t act like that.
The real reason the script is being written that way is because the film project wants to tell a story of Good People triumphing over Bad People, and the script-writers’ notion of Good and Bad People corresponds pretty well to a particular view of the US-centric Culture War. The technical term for such a project is Propaganda. It may even be well-meaning Propaganda, but no-one should see this as anything other than an attempt to deliver a Moral Lesson… one that mangles its portrayal of real people (living and politically-active people at that) in pursuit of its goals. And that’s wrong.
(I won’t even get into the midnight Jacinda Ardern melodrama, or the Winston Peters weirdness. The Christchurch shooting and its aftermath is a subject matter that demands sensitivity and caution, and the script-writers have completely mangled it).