I really enjoyed the new Netflix docu-series “Wild Wild Country,” which you may have heard about. It was released last month and has been garnering some positive reviews and tons of online buzz.
It’s the story, told over six, hour-long episodes, of the Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh and his devotees, known as Rajneeshis.
Thousands of the disciples, from both India and many other countries, followed him from India to the U.S., where they built a commune in the early 1980s outside a tiny town in Central Oregon.
The orange-clad followers clashed with locals and authorities before ultimately…well, you’ll have to give it a watch to see how it ends (if you don’t already know).
Some of the things I loved about the series:
- The directors, Chapman and MacLain Way, manged to portray sympathetically not just members of the Bhagwan cult, but also the town’s residents, with many long interviews in which participants in the saga shared their first-person accounts. (Many were in the twenties or thirties during the time the events took place, so are now in their fifties or sixties.)
- The series contains on a ton of contemporaneous footage, from local TV news accounts that aired at the time to what looks like footage shot by Rajneeshis themselves to document goings on at their commune.
- The music is fantastic, really adding emotional content. (Some reviews I’ve read say the music is too overbearing, but I quite liked it.)
I’ve been digging around to try to learn more about the movement (don’t worry — just out of curiosity, not in a desire to join it!). Here are some resources I’ve found:
- Book: “My Life in Orange: Growing Up with the Guru,” a memoir by Tim Guest, who lived at Rajneeshpuram as a small child
- Book: “Breaking the Spell,” a memoir by Jane Stork, aka Ma Shanti B, who features in the series
- Interview: a Q&A with the directors at Vulture
- Long-form articles: the New Yorker in 1986 published two lenghty “reporter at large” stories by Frances FitzGerald: Rajneeshpuram I and Rajneeshpuram II.
- Special series: Last year The Oregonian newspaper ran a package of six stories: “Rajneeshees in Oregon: An untold history.”
Update, April 7: Columbia Journalism Review has an interview with Les Zaitz, the Oregonian investigative reporter featured in the series.
He reveals what it was like report on the story, recounts his trip to India to learn more about Bhagwan and Sheela, and more. The close quote:
I’ve always been struck by just how dangerous and evil some of these people were. I’m not sure the Netflix series has accurately captured that. This was not just a group of people that lost their way. This was a very dangerous group that put a lot of lives at risk.
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