Wild Wild Country

TV review by
Mark Dolan, Common Sense Media
Wild Wild Country TV Poster Image
Superb docu explores religious freedom, cults, xenophobia.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.

Positive Messages

Viewers are left to decide how they feel about the group's practices. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

For a religious group, they don't always make moral choices. 

Violence

The aftermath of a hotel bombing is shown; assassination plots are recounted.

 

Sex

A few clips of naked men and women worshipping and dancing; nude sunbathers are shown; references to free love and open marriages. 

Language
Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

People are shown smoking cigarettes and drinking beer and wine; drug use is mentioned but not shown.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Wild Wild Country is a documentary covering the bizarre series of events that happened in the small town of Antelope, Oregon, in the early '80s. It follows a religious group from India that bought a 60,000-acre ranch and decided to build a self-sustaining city on the property. Archival footage shows the group's unconventional practices, including some disturbing breathing exercises and communal naked dancing. Altercations with xenophobic locals lead to violence that escalates to bombing, poisoning, and attempted murder. These incidents aside, much of the battling takes place through legal means and the court of public opinion. Mature teens with an interest in civil rights may have an interest in the conflicts on display here.

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What's the story?

In WILD WILD COUNTRY, Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh and his followers relocate their ashram in 1981 from India to a 60,000-acre ranch outside the small town of Antelope, Oregon, population 40. Hundreds of Rajneeshees from all over the world descend on the area to build a self-sustaining community and get a state charter to declare it a city named Rajneeshpuram. As the city grows to include an airstrip, mall, police department, and more -- all owned and run by Rajneeshees -- so does the tension with the older, conservative citizens of Antelope who don't understand their new neighbors and don't like the tenets of free love that the Bhagwan promotes. When verbal threats escalate to violent actions, both sides dig in, and complex issues of civil rights and religious freedom get explored while personal dramas within the commune unfold in unpredictable ways. The filmmakers use present-day interviews with former commune members, residents of Antelope, and state investigators to tell the story. These conversations are edited together with numerous archival television news broadcasts to present multiple perspectives on the events that occurred in Oregon from 1981 to 1985.

Is it any good?

Engrossing and thought-provoking, this series turns the bizarre tale of an Indian guru and his followers emigrating to rural Oregon into a fascinating study of xenophobia and religious devotion. Wild Wild Country has enough betrayals, secret plots, and power struggles to satisfy the most ardent Shakespeare fan or thriller lover. 

Among those interviewed, the most captivating is Sheela, the Bhagwan's personal secretary. Smart, devoted, and no one's fool, she's the driving force behind the story and is such a complex character it's impossible to not hang on her every word. Her straightforward, unapologetic and often profanity-laden manner of speaking is always delivered with a charismatic smile -- it's clear why she was put in charge and so well loved by the Bhagwan and his followers. As the story progresses and her leadership practices get more and more questionable, the audience is left to wonder what drives Sheela more: her religious devotion or her need for power. Like other great documentaries, Wild Wild Country doesn't provide easy answers and allows viewers to draw their own conclusions.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how the news presents information. Wild Wild Country features clips of TV news reports covering the events at the time. Does the news coverage seem biased or does it seem objective?

  • What is a cult? Why do you think people would join a group like the Rajneeshees?

TV details

  • Premiere date: March 16, 2018
  • Network: Netflix
  • Genre: Drama
  • TV rating: TV-MA
  • Available on: Streaming

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