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New documentary about the women in Jim Jones’ inner circle

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Yesterday, I saw a really great documentary called “Jonestown: The Women Behind the Massacre” that has now become my new favorite on this subject. It’s based on Mary Maaga’s book, “Hearing the Voices of Jonestown,” which focuses on the role of the educated white women who made up Jim Jones’ inner circle (I also highly recommend this book, though it is a bit academic), and Maaga herself appears in the film as an expert. The film focuses on the three women who were closest to Jones and probably played the largest role in planning and executing the massacre: Carolyn Layton, Jones’ favorite mistress, Maria Katsaris, Jones’ second favorite mistress, and Annie Moore, Carolyn’s sister and Jones’ personal nurse. Jones’ legal wife Marceline is also discussed, though it seems like she was more of an enabler of Jones’ excesses than someone who directly planned the massacre (not that this wasn’t bad too, since Marceline played good cop to Jones’ bad cop and kept a lot of people in the Temple that way who would have otherwise left).

One thing I like about this film is that it doesn’t treat Jones as this big bad who brainwashed almost a thousand people to  passively “drink the Kool-Aid.” Jones himself was so doped up on drugs by the end that it would have been easy for Layton, Katsaris, and Moore to override any plans for suicide/Murder. Instead, they shared and enabled Jones’ pathological thought patterns and made them into a reality. Without these women and others in the leadership circle deciding to put the plan into action, the “revolutionary suicide” idea would have remained just that, an idea in Jones’ fevered brain.

Another plus is that this is the only documentary on Jonestown that gets into the John Victor Stoen custody case which is absolutely vital to understanding why Jones and his inner circle felt so besieged:


Not only was the custody case draining Jonestown of badly needed resources, but the possibility of sending John back to his legal parents would have emboldened any outsider wanting to remove a child or adult from the community. Jones and his inner circle preferred to kill John and everyone else in Jonestown rather than allow the Stoens to “win” in any form of fashion.

Basically, if you want a though provoking film that takes a feminist lens towards the Jonestown tragedy, I can’t recommend this film enough. I saw it on demand from A&E, though I’m not sure about its availibity outside of the US or if it’s on streaming services.

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Here's a link to the A&E page for the documentary on demand. I haven’t found it in the UK yet, but I’ll keep looking.  

ETA: it’s available on demand in the UK if you have Sky

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