In general, we have a morbid fascination with cult leaders. There’s something about a charismatic individual who indoctrinates their followers into a particular way of life or mission, often with catastrophic results. (To themselves and others.) While the topic is forever the subject of books and documentaries, in the last several years, it’s been a particularly fruitful subject in Hollywood. From Charles Manson to David Koresh, cults and their leaders have had quite a presence on our screens. And it sounds like there’s no end in sight. There are two Jonestown-centered projects currently in the works, most recently, a film starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
The actor will play Jim Jones in White Night, a psychological thriller based on Jonestown survivor Deborah Layton’s memoir Seductive Poison. Chloë Grace Moretz will play Layton in the film. Jones, the leader of the Peoples Temple religious organization, was behind a mass-casualty event in 1978, during which more than 900 followers died after drinking poison at his behest. The incident occurred at the Peoples Temple Agricultural Project—commonly known as Jonestown—commune in Guyana.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, where we saw the news, Anne Sewitsky is directing, with a script from William Wheeler. The film follows Moretz’s Layton, who was part of Jones’s inner circle before defecting and trying to bring him down.
In late 2021, Deadline reported that Leonardo DiCaprio will play the infamous cult leader in Jim Jones. In addition, the Don’t Look Up actor will produce the MGM film, which Venom‘s Scott Rosenberg will write. However, while both films are dealing with the same subject matter, it sounds like Gordon-Levitt and DiCaprio’s films are taking very different approaches. White Night appears to take a more macro approach to examining Jonestown, through the lens of a survivor. The DiCaprio film, meanwhile, seems more focused on the man—at least right now.