Saturday, November 20, 2021

DiCaprio to Play Cult Leader Jim Jones In New Hollywood Biopic

Jim Jones (Creative Commons photo)
This past week I learned that Leonardo DiCaprio was in talks to play cult leader Jim Jones in a new film about the Jonestown massacre. It brought to mind another memory from my year in Puerto Rico.

I was working in a Christian bookstore in Puerto Rico that fall when, on November 18, 1978, 909 members of The Peoples' Temple, a cult that had taken up residence in Guayana, participated in a mass suicide by cyanide. It was a shocking story.

My fiancé happened to be working on an apple farm in Maine at that time. Donna Foster, the wife of a couple who lived on the farm that year, at one time babysat Jim Jones' children in Indiana where Jones and his family lived for two decades.

It's almost creepy how close we can be to history. I know more than a few such stories.

On another occasion, a few years before the Jonestown massacre, my brother showed me a newspaper story about a faith healer in South America with an unusual twist in his ministry. He would call people up to the stage, purportedly reach into their bodies and pull out cancerous tumors. My brother asked my opinion and I thought it strange. Yet someone thought it noteworthy enough to cover this man's activities in the news. 

In retrospect, I am guessing that Jim Jones would not have passed Penn and Teller's scrutiny. The "trick" no doubt had the appearance of being real only because a gullible audience was so willing to believe.  

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Rev. Cecil Williams with Jim Jones. Photo Amy Wong
When the Jonestown mass suicide occurred, what shocked me almost as much as the tragic massacre itself was the release of two books about Jonestown in time for Christmas. How could this be? 

It's apparent that there were authors or journalists who had been following this evolving story for some time. It didn't just happen out of the blue. When this grand finale story broke, it triggered a rush to be first to deliver a more comprehensive account regarding what happened. 

Wikipedia has an extensive overview of Jim Jones' life and career that may be of interest to some of you. His "ministry" began in the mid-50's when he was but 24. For two decades he developed an eclectic approach drawn from a variety of sources. He was 47 when he died. 

This won't be Leonardo DiCaprio's first role as a famous quirky person. His role as the complicated Howard Hughes in The Aviator was a noteworthy achievement. 

* * *

It will be interesting how Hollywood interprets the story of Jim Jones. Born in 1931, Jones became a fan of Hitler in his youth. Later he became enamored with Communism. He was also a major critic of the separation of the races and became an advocate for blacks, adopting some African-American children into his own family.

It should be noted that not everyone "drank the Kool-aid" in Jonestown. (The drink was a cyanide-laced grape drink.) Those who didn't drink willingly (they were all supposedly going to meet up on the other side somewhere) were shot. It must have been a scary scene that day. 

Related Links

The Jonestown Massacre

Jim Jones (Wikipedia)

Entertainment Weekly Announces DiCaprio to Play Jim Jones

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