There is a man who once slept on a dead horse the night, threw lobsters at FBI agents, and drew Kate Winslet as one of his French daughters. Now he wants to make a film about Jim Jones.
It’s a gripping story. The Indiana-born preacher founded the People’s Temple in 1954 on the basis of radical Christian socialism and moved it to California in 1965. After rumors of abuse and, increasingly suspicious of US authorities, in 1974, he scampered into the Guyana wilderness with his followers, mostly urban African Americans, to create an agrarian utopia – the Peoples Temple Agricultural Project. At first it was seen, even by officials at the US Embassy, ââas a real success. However, after several relatives complained about the mistreatment of the members, Jones became increasingly paranoid and following a visit from US Congressman Leo Ryan, who was killed on the airstrip of Port Kaituma, Jones poisoned his congregation with cyanide “Kool Aid” before firing. himself.
A total of 919 people died on November 18, 1978 in what remains the largest “mass suicide” in history. And it happened here on Guyanese soil when almost all Guyanese knew very little about church activities before. Many only discovered it when – after hearing US military helicopters flying over the remote camp near Port Kaituma to retrieve the bodies – they were shocked to read it in the newspapers. It wasn’t the time of social media – #jonestown #koolaid.
The power of cinematography with its emphasis on imagery and emotion to shape perceptions and insert favorable narratives of how the world should be ordered cannot be overstated. A Hollywood blockbuster film crosses the world like a cultural missile, bypassing the elites and landing directly on the masses. Since World War II, the US government has recognized the opportunities and dangers the medium presented, creating the Bureau of Motion Pictures, to revise scripts and censor anything that offered an unfavorable portrayal of America. This will continue until the McCarthy era with the blacklisting of alleged Communist actors and directors. None of this is necessary these days as Hollywood gladly plays its part. His glorification of the US military is encouraged by the Department of Defense which allows access to military installations for films that accurately reflect the country’s armed forces.
At the same time, Hollywood distorts images of countries into the most simplistic caricatures, a most recent example being the Netflix series âNarcos Mexicoâ.
Jim Jones’ story shares characteristics with Joseph Conrad’s 1899 novel “The Heart of Darkness”, whose main character, an ivory merchant called Kurtz, created his own kingdom in the then Belgian Congo and is revered by “the natives” before going mad. Francis Ford Coppola’s film “Apocalypse Now” borrows the character and name, Colonel Kurtz played by Marlon Brando, a rogue American soldier who settles in war-torn Vietnam, committing various atrocities as he also sinks. in madness. Closer to home, Paul Theroux’s novel âMosquito Coastâ (and film) tells of an eccentric American inventor who settles in Honduras with a bizarre plan to deliver ice cream to indigenous peoples, with tragic consequences. The three fictions share the themes of the central white character who goes mad in an alien jungle with marginalized natives to play extras watching utopia turn into dystopia.
No wonder Leonardo DiCaprio wants to make this movie. It is, to use a well-worn expression, “a no-brainer” and it is also not surprising that the reaction on social media here has been the hope that it can be filmed locally so that as in the real world. life the Guyanese are once again extras in this drama. .
But there are several good reasons why such a movie shouldn’t be made. Besides the boring and anachronistic politics of Western men behaving badly in “strange lands”, this particular topic has been covered extensively in many documentaries, films, books and even songs. So exactly, what more needs to be explored? To be picked up on the carcass? What is its social purpose? There’s also the issue of surviving parents and how they might feel, which is part of a larger debate about the moral legitimacy of the true genre of grassroots crime.
For the relatives of those who died that day (eight of whom were Guyanese – all children), such a film will uncover the memories of their loved ones when perhaps more than 40 years later they may wish them. forget or remember them in their own way. . Many also had to grapple with the problems of family members who succumbed to Jones’ brainwashing and perhaps the guilt of not doing more to discourage them. It will all be dredged up if this movie is made. From Guyana, we are linked to this tragedy. Almost everyone playing a word association game would say “Jonestown” after hearing “Guyana”. Even today, on Twitter, Jones-town is used as an abbreviation for bigoted behavior, just as âDrinking the Kool Aidâ has long been part of mainstream political parlance (the powdered drink was probably a generic brand known as of Flavor Aid). Some 40 years later, Guyana is inextricably linked in the minds of many around the world with the tragedy that contributes to the perception of a dark, chaotic and dangerous country. That’s why one of the more absurd proposals was for tours of Jonestown, as suggested by a local flight operator – a call for lustful American murder buffs to wander the jungle in cargo pants. No thanks.
Guyana was the victim of this tragedy and remains an interested party at a time when we should seek to define ourselves rather than to be defined. We can protest, perhaps diplomatically, that this proposed film would be harmful to our international reputation and image just as some countries have done for other films. Alas, that would not change anything. Even as a sovereign nation of 750,000 people, we are powerless to stop this film. Leonardo will likely have his biopic, his millions, and maybe another Oscar. For relatives, they should prepare for an exhumation of their grief and Guyana for another 40 years of unjust association.