CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand — Plans for a movie depicting New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s widely lauded response to the Christchurch terrorist attacks suffered a blow Monday when a producer pulled out of the project following a public backlash.

Criticism emerged on social media after plans for the production, to be called “They Are Us” and directed by New Zealander Andrew Niccol, were announced late last week. Objections centered on the movie’s focus on the prime minister, to be played by Australian actress Rose Byrne, rather than victims of the massacre on March 15, 2019.

Speaking during the weekend, Ardern said she felt that she should not be the film’s focus, and added in a television interview Monday that it felt “very soon and very raw” for the country. A petition organized in part by members of the Muslim community, calling for the film to be scrapped, received tens of thousands of signatures.

In a statement Monday explaining her decision to withdraw, producer Philippa Campbell condemned the way the early promotion of the movie “was focused on film business, and did not take enough account of the political and human context of the story.”

The production company, FilmNation Entertainment, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Niccol previously told the Hollywood Reporter that the film was about “how an unprecedented act of hate was overcome by an outpouring of love and support.”

Plans for the movie emerged two years after Australian-born gunman Brenton Tarrant opened fire on worshipers at two mosques in Christchurch, killing 51 people and injuring dozens.

The massacre was the deadliest peacetime act of violence in New Zealand’s history, prompting weeks of national mourning and an outpouring of sympathy toward the Muslim community. Ardern won global praise for her compassionate response, in which she demonstrated solidarity with the victims and moved quickly to tighten gun laws.

Tarrant was sentenced to life in prison without parole in August 2020.

In Christchurch, residents on Monday echoed criticisms of “They Are Us” aired on social media.

Ali, 23, who worships at the Al Noor Mosque, the first target of the gunman on the day of the attacks, said the movie was “the dumbest thing ever” and he did not think anyone in his community would watch it.

“Everyone’s really just petitioning against it,” said Ali, who gave only his middle name because of privacy concerns.

Janet Campbell, 65, said it was “far too soon” to make a movie about the attacks. “It’s still pretty raw, it hasn’t been that long since the shooter was in court. Also I don’t think Jacinda should be the focus,” she said.

Emma Roche, 23, a history student at the University of Canterbury, described the project as “an insensitive political stunt.”

“To condense the events of March 15 into a film that will primarily focus on the exploits of a politician seems to miss the point of the ideas of commemoration and respect,” she added.

Niccol’s script was developed “in consultation with several members of the mosques affected by the tragedy,” according to the Hollywood Reporter. However, that came as a surprise to several members of the Muslim community, who were reportedly “blindsided” by the film’s announcement, local media reported.

Anjum Rahman of the Islamic Women’s Council of New Zealand said the story of the Christchurch attacks “needs telling, but not in this way.”

“It should be centered on those directly impacted by the attacks. And the victims need to be properly consulted if this goes ahead,” she said.

Byrne has not addressed the controversy. But she recently told the Associated Press she was “attached” to the project and excited to play Ardern, a “fascinating character.”

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