Los Angeles, CA
Beyond “Kool-Aid”: White Nights, Black Paradise, a new dramatic short film on the 1978 Jonestown massacre and Peoples Temple focuses on black women, racial politics and destructive religions.
On November 18, 1978, over 900 members of the People’s Temple, a Black multiracial church with Pentecostal origins, died in a Guyana jungle settlement named after the church’s white founder, the Reverend Jim Jones. On that fateful night, a U.S. Congressman investigating the church was murdered, and Jonestown members either drank or were forcibly injected with a deadly combination of cyanide and Flavor-Aid. Seventy five percent of those who died in the Jonestown massacre— the largest murder-suicide in American history—were African American. The majority of these victims were African American women. Yet, there have been few literary portrayals of Peoples Temple and Jonestown that have focused on black women’s investment and pivotal role in this religious movement.
Written, directed and produced by Sikivu Hutchinson, and adapted from her historical fiction novel of the same name, White Nights, Black Paradise departs from that trend. Peeking behind the curtain of the horrendous death of a community that was supposed to be a racial “paradise”, the film focuses on the riveting back story, cultural politics and social history of the Jonestown “era” as experienced through the eyes of multigenerational black women characters from all sexual orientations and professions. Many of the cast members of White Nights, Black Paradise hail from Los Angeles’ own African American Robey Theatre, founded by Ben Guillory and Danny Glover in 1994.
The film stars seasoned stage and screen actors Tiffany Coty, Robbie Danzie, Camille Lourde Wyatt, Aba Arthur, Dionne Neish and Darrell Philip. For Tiffany Coty (who plays lead protagonist Taryn Strayer, a lesbian atheist member critical of the church), White Nights, Black Paradise was a welcome departure from the stereotypical supporting caregiver or hypersexual vixen roles that many black actresses are offered. As for the tragic history behind Jonestown, Robbie Danzie (who plays Jonestown’s unofficial prosecutor Zephyr) notes, “The novel reminds those of us passionately committed to organizations (spiritual or not), that our participation must be based on inquiry and self-study, as opposed to heightened emotion and blind faith or trust stirred by others.
Even today, there are those of us roused to action, sometimes tragically, by leaders of churches and/or political organizations, who’ve become intoxicated by increased money and power.” White Nights, Black Paradise will be released in the fall of 2016 to commemorate the 38th anniversary of Jonestown.
Cast and Crew:
Assistant Director: Sheila Jackson, Twitter @eveslime
Director of Photography: Stephen Farrier
Fanon Hutchinson, @kmkprod
Darrin Johnson, @dj_blues
Sound Mixer: Alrick Bainton
Editor: Fanon Hutchinson
Starring: Aba Arthur (Hy)
Allison Blaize (Carol), @AJB
Tiffany Coty (Taryn), @TiffanyCoty
Robbie Danzie (Zephyr), @msdanzie
Latonya Kitchen (Devera), @originalactress
Janine Lancaster (Ida), @actor4god
Dionne Neish (Jess), @busybloom
Darrell Philip (Jim Jones)
Camille Lourde Wyatt (Ernestine), @misslourde