By Leanne MacPherson, Contributing Writer
“Wild, Wild Country” is blazing a new trail for old obsessions on Netflix. Today’s society seems to have an obsession with cults and controversial religious movements. From the Manson Family to the People’s Temple and subsequent Jonestown massacre, twentieth century cults have been the topic of countless movies, books, documentaries and television shows. In the new Netflix docuseries, Chapman and Maclain Way embark on a journey of telling the story of a lesser known community – the Rajneeshees.
The six part series details the 1980s Rajneeshee movement led by Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. Originally amassing a large following in India due to his unusual meditation techniques and controversial ideas on free sex and open marriage, Baghwan purchased a 64,000 acre plot of land in Wasco County, Oregon in 1981 and planned to move his movement to the United States. Led by Baghwan’s secretary, Ma Anand Sheela, the Rajneeshees built their own self-sufficient “utopia” called Rajneeshpuram. The establishment of this ranch commune was much to the dismay of the citizens of neighboring Antelope – a sleepy retirement town with a population of only forty at the time of the Rajneeshees’ arrival.
Narrated completely by former residents of Rajneeshpuram, citizens of Antelope, and law enforcement officers involved in the eventual legal battles between the U.S. government and the Rajneeshees, including extensive archival footage, the series is eerily raw in its retelling of the controversial group’s presence in Antelope. What began as general dismay over the Rajneeshees’ intrusive presence and sexual provocativeness eventually led to arson, bombings, biochemical attacks, attempted murder, immigration fraud and an all-out political war over control of Wasco County.
The authenticity of the firsthand accounts are staggering as former Rajneeshees, Antelope citizens and law enforcement alike speak unabashedly of their wrongdoings. Yet this authenticity also extends to the way all parties stick to their beliefs even decades later. These personal narratives make “Wild, Wild Country” completely binge-worthy as audiences eagerly continue through the series hoping for some internal clarity that never seems to come. By the end of the series, you still won’t know which side you’re on.
Directors Chapman and Maclain Way were urged to tell this story after working closely with Oregon’s film archives for their last film, “The Battered Bastards of Baseball,” and learning of the extensive never-before-seen-footage of the events surrounding Rajneeshpuram. Their interests were piqued when they met former Rajneeshees who they viewed as intelligent, highly accomplished, thoughtful people – a direct contrast to the general perception of the Rajneeshee movement as a terrorist sex cult.
“Wild Wild Country” premieres on Netflix on March 16th.