On March 16, Netflix released a new series called Wild Wild Country that tells a story seemingly too strange to be believed. Early promotional material for the show remarked upon its unexpected twists and turns, but perhaps the most surprising thing of all is that Netflix's Wild Wild Country is based on a true story. In fact, it's a docuseries, and it doesn't get any realer than that.
The six-episode series details events that occurred in Wasco County, Oregon in 1981. When an Indian guru named Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh bought a plot of land and moved his followers in with the intention of forming a utopia called Rajneeshpuram, the surrounding town of Antelope was having none of it. The residents of Antelope were older and more conservative, a far cry from the colorful group that had suddenly settled next door. The push-pull between the two very different communities forms the basis of Wild Wild Country, though the story may move in unpredictable directions.
Directed by Chapman Way and Maclain Way, the series featured a lot of the Rajneeshees' original footage, as well as interviews with key figures involved in the conflict. As fictional as the tale it tells may feel at times, you can see with your own eyes that everything that unfolded was undoubtedly true.
While the Rajneeshees might have stated their goal as forming an ideal, peaceful society, the issues between them and Antelope brought their darker secrets to the surface. Following attacks from Antelope residents, the Rajneeshees militarized and began to get involved with local elections. Soon the FBI were investigating them, according to Den of Geek, and it was discovered that they were engaging in wire-tapping, immigration fraud, election rigging, and even planning political assassinations.
One important person in the story was Shree Rajneesh's secretary, right-hand woman, and spokesperson, Ma Anand Sheela. She was the public face of the sect, and was also deeply involved in its illegal dealings, which included purposefully infecting local residents with salmonella so they would be too sick to get to the polls to vote. She was arrested in 1986 for immigration fraud and attempted murder, eventually pleading guilty to several assault and conspiracy charges. She only served 29 months of her three concurrent 20-year term, after which she moved to Switzerland and purchased two nursing homes.
The Way brothers discussed their interest in the story and their plans for the series with Deadline. Chapman summed up the basic premise by saying, "Basically it deals with an outside group, 'the other,' that moves into a new town and is viewed through the prism of the other and its a spiritual religious group that this town isn't familiar with." However, as would become clear, there was a lot more to it than that. He continued:
You can't really view this story through today's political lens because a lot of the politics are inverted in kind of a very interesting way. You have a conservative Christian town that's trying to limit freedom of religion and what this spiritual group can do. On the other side, you have a spiritual group that takes up the second amendment, buys AK-47s guns and arms up.
Maclain interjected that because the story was so complicated, they wanted viewers to be challenged to "try and really figure out exactly how they feel." Both sides of the conflict may have had points the audience could connect to, but both took things to such an extreme place that it made empathy for their perspective difficult.
Like many unusual true stories, there is a lot to unpack with Wild Wild Country. It may take all six episodes for viewers to formulate how they feel about it, but it will be a rollercoaster journey along the way.
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