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Film / Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim Jones

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Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim Jones is a 1980 Made-for-TV Movie centered on Jim Jones from his childhood up to his death following his leadership of Peoples Temple. Unlike the later documentaries Jonestown and Jonestown: Paradise Lost, it's more of a fictionalized take on events (although it does contain many of the most important parts of the story) with some characters who are equivalents to (or composites of) actual people involved with the Temple. The film stars Powers Boothe as Jim Jones, with Ned Beatty as Congressman Leo Ryan.

Originally distributed by Telepictures for CBS where it was aired on April 15 and 16, 1980 in two parts, the movie has since largely faded into obscurity with few re-airings and video releases after the fact.


Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim Jones contains examples of:

  • Casting Gag: Father Divine, a black spiritual leader whose teachings influenced Jones', is played by an actor also named Jim Jones.
  • Death of a Child: Children can very clearly be seen amongst those taking the poison.
  • Egopolis: Jonestown, of course.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Expository text at the beginning of both parts mentions Jim Jones' date of death.
  • How We Got Here: Much of the movie (prior to Leo Ryan's arrival) is told in flashback.
  • Nothing Left to Do but Die: After Leo Ryan's inspection of the compound and resulting assassination, Jim Jones orders that everyone in his congregation must take their lives to evade what he feels will lead to further torment.
  • Only Sane Man: Richard Jefferson is one of the few Temple members who is shown to be well aware of Jones' corrupt behaviour and the poor quality of life in Jonestown.
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  • Pet the Dog: At some point in Jim's early adulthood, he has his wife give a black child a haircut when a racist barber refuses to do so.
  • Protagonist Journey to Villain: Jim Jones goes from being an idealistic young man wanting a fairer and more just society to a cruel and corrupt cult leader who finally orders his followers to commit mass suicide.
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!: During a meeting one night, Richard Jefferson openly speaks out against Jones who has laid claim to the former's girlfriend whilst also declaring relationships forbidden.