The Story of the Jonestown Massacre Is About Much More Than Jim Jones. We’ve Been Fighting to Tell It for Decades

F orty-three years back, on November 18, 1978, 918 Americans passed away in a remote jungle in Guyana, South America. One was a U.S. Congressman, 3 were reporters and 914 were citizens of the Peoples Temple farming objective referred to as Jonestown About 80 members of Peoples Temple who were residing in Guyana made it through that day. Numerous members residing in San Francisco and Los Angeles did too.

In the turmoil of the after-effects, this occasion would be defined as a “mass suicide.” We still hear echoes of this whenever we hear the expression, “they consumed the Kool-Aid.” The concept that they all “consumed the Kool-Aid” is a misconception. Not everybody passed away voluntarily that day. Some were injected with cyanide involuntarily, consisting of numerous kids and seniors. A misconception is that Jim Jones stays the only representation of Peoples Temple and Jonestown whose story is worth informing. This is far from real– we understand due to the fact that we have actually been combating to inform the more comprehensive story for more than twenty years.

Time after time, we see individuals of Jonestown referred to as “blind fans” and Jim Jones as the “cult leader” who purchased them to pass away. In this story, Jones is all-powerful, individuals are robbed of individual company, and the group ends up being a blip in history, lumped in with other cults— whatever from Heaven’s Gate to NXIVM Till we open this story, we not just glorify the abuser, we miss out on the chance to genuinely comprehend the significance of Jonestown.

In 2000, David Dower, the creative director of Z Space Studio in San Francisco, commissioned us to compose a play about Peoples Temple. He saw our Berkeley Repertory Theater production of The Laramie Project, a play co-written by Leigh based upon interviews with individuals of the town of Laramie, Wyo., in the after-effects of the whipping and death of gay University of Wyoming trainee Matthew Shepard His idea was: Let’s inform the story of Jonestown in the exact same design, utilizing the words of individuals who lived it.

Read More: The U.S. Military Had to Clean Up After the Jonestown Massacre 40 Years Ago. What the Crew Found Was ‘Beyond ‘Imagination’

For 5 years, we took a trip the nation talking to the survivors of Jonestown It took a very long time to make their trust. The world feared, mocked and reviled them for several years. When they consulted with us, numerous were discussing their experiences for the very first time.

We quickly found the abundant mankind of these survivors, along with the discomfort that still haunts them. We likewise needed to deal with the plain truth that 70%of individuals who passed away in Jonestown were Black. They went there to leave the ruthless truths of ghetto life and the Jim Crow South in the 1960 s and ’70 s in America. They desired a much better life for their kids and their households. Their voices appeared all however lost to history.

We guaranteed the survivors 3 things: First, that we would not make composite characters from their stories. Second, we would not consist of unneeded violence. The occasions that unfolded were graphic and terrible, however we would discover an artistic method to manage the deaths in Jonestown. And 3rd, our play would not be fixated Jim Jones. Rather, it would be individuals who produced the motion called Peoples Temple and we would do our finest to represent the variety of the Temple in regards to age, race, gender and class.

This 3rd guarantee stays the hardest one to keep.

Read More: The Jonestown Massacre, Remembered

The play, The People’s Temple, opened in 2005, and numerous survivors concerned see it. A number of mentioned that they felt for the very first time that the audience wasn’t seeing them as “other,” however more like “us.” One survivor who had actually gotten away through the jungle in the last hours of Jonestown concerned the theater searching for his pals in the Temple. The limits in between life and art had actually blurred.

When the play closed, in spite of strong evaluations and ticket sales, we questioned if there was simply excessive preconception still connected to this group for the institutional theater to manage. Documentary filmmaker Stanley Nelson’s group saw our play in Berkeley. They too had actually been attempting to reach the survivor neighborhood, and a number of individuals we talked to consented to go on electronic camera for his 2006 movie Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple. It appeared to be a turning point. As our task moved forward, we struck lots of more obstructions as we attempted to share this story. From the New York theater world to independent movie manufacturers to tv, the consistent refrain was “more Jim Jones.”

So when a biopic of Jim Jones was just recently revealed in journalism with a significant Hollywood studio and significant star connected to play Jim Jones, we called some survivors to see how they were feeling. Among them stated, “When I saw the news, my heart simply sank. I simply believed: Here we go once again.”

Our objective in informing this story was to inform the stories of individuals– who they were, why they signed up with and what took place to them later– to represent a variety of voices.

Black voices like Christine Miller, a long time Temple member who participated Los Angeles, who battled with Jim Jones in the minutes leading up to the deaths in Jonestown. She stood in the structure and stated, “As long as there is life, there’s hope. That’s my faith.”

And Hyacinth Thrash and her sis Zippy, who were members from the early days in Indiana. When the statement was made over the speaker for everybody to report to the structure, Zippy went, however Hyacinth declined. She concealed in her cabin. The next early morning she got up to discover her sibling dead amongst the others, and to discover herself the just one alive.

And Odell Rhodes, a when homeless Vietnam veterinarian, who got away life on the streets to discover a house in Peoples Temple, just to discover himself leaving through the jungle while the murder-suicides were happening.

And so numerous others who lost moms, daddies, sis, siblings and kids in Jonestown, some who lost their whole household.

The kids of these survivors, and now their grandchildren, too, battle to comprehend their own household lineage, and the tradition of injury that has actually been given through the generations. A whole generation of Black wealth in addition to Black leaders, instructors, attorneys, company owner and coaches in San Francisco and L.A. were lost that day in Jonestown. The Fillmore area of San Francisco, which at the time was a mainly Black area, was ravaged. It resembled a ghost town.

Who is going to inform their stories? More crucial, when will this market and the world be prepared to hear them?


More Must-Read Stories From TIME


Contact us at