Oscar-winner and meme star Leonardo DiCaprio is reportedly in final-stage talks to play evangelist cult leader Jim Jones — and with the families of Jonestown victims still alive all across the Bay Area, this could be cause for some fresh heartache and controversy.
The script of the film, titled Jim Jones, was penned by screenwriter Scott Rosenberg, who is also serving as executive producer, as Deadline first reported. Rosenberg's writing credits include Beautiful Girls, Con Air, High Fidelity, Gone in 60 Seconds, Venom, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, and Jumanji: The Next Level.
MGM has reportedly secured a deal to make the film from DiCaprio's production company, Appian Way.
As you may know via the excellent 2006 documentary that aired on PBS, Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple, Jones began his ministerial career in Indianapolis, founding Peoples Temple of the Disciples of Christ there in 1955. The Reverend Jones built his brand of Christianity around socialist ideals and emphasized racial equality, and Peoples Temple attracted followers in large part because of these ideals. He relocated with some followers to northern California in the 1960s, and ultimately set up a significant congregation in San Francisco — becoming a political force in the city in the process, in part because Jones could mobilize 2,000 followers to show up for any political event.
Peoples Temple also had a significant presence in Los Angeles, and for a period in the early 70s, Jones led weekly bus caravans of 10 to 15 buses around the state with an aim of riasing money and recruiting for the church.
It wasn't until the mid-70s, following an expose in the San Francisco Examiner and increasing scrutiny of the church's tax-exempt status — as Jones began openly admitting he was an atheist, and was using religion to recruit people into a socialist movement — that Jones established Jonestown in Guyana, and convinced around 1,000 followers to move there permanently, away from the prying eyes of the U.S. government.
It was here, in November 1978, after a Bay Area delegation that included Rep. Leo Ryan and his then aide, current Rep. Jackie Speier, and NBC news cameras arrived to investigate claims of human-rights abuses, that Jones ordered a firing squad to shoot up the delegation as they tried to leave. And then he ordered all 918 followers present to commit mass suicide using cyanide-laced Flavor Aid.
There is a Jonestown Memorial at Evergreen Cemetery in East Oakland, which is the final resting place of the 412 unclaimed remains from the Jonestown massacre, many of whom had moved from the Bay Area.
The upcoming film, Jim Jones, only has DiCaprio attached so far, and it's not clear how much of the scope of Jones's life and ministry will be covered in it. The film reportedly sold to MGM in a seven-figure deal.
As Deadline notes, DiCaprio will star next in Netflix’s Don’t Look Up opposite Jennifer Lawrence, Jonah Hill, Timothée Chalamet, Meryl Streep and Ariana Grande among others — directed by Oscar-winner Adam McKay (The Big Short, Vice). DiCaprio is also appearing in Martin Scorsese’s Western crime drama Killers of the Flower Moon for Apple Originals Films, which just wrapped shooting last month.
Top Images: DiCaprio at COP26 in Scotland last week, Photo by Owen Humphreys-WPA Pool/Getty Images; Jim Jones photo via Getty Images