‘This is a cult’: inside the shocking story of a religious weight-loss group
In a strange new docuseries, the dark world of the Remnant Fellowship and its ‘pray yourself thin’ leader Gwen Shamblin is brought to light
Wed 29 Sep 2021 20.56 BST
In May of this year, film-makers Marina Zenovich and Nile Cappello had nearly wrapped on a documentary series about Remnant Fellowship, an insular, eerily cheery church in Brentwood, Tennessee, which preached weight loss as a spiritual assignment. For more than three years Cappello and her team had researched Remnant, which had faced accusations of being a cult that promoted child abuse, and its charismatic leader, Gwen Shamblin Lara, a stick-thin woman with an inflated blonde beehive who gained fame for a theological diet program to pray one’s way to thinness.
Cappello, an investigative journalist and executive producer, and Zenovich, a director who has made films on such figures as Roman Polanski, Robin Williams and Lance Armstrong, had spoken to numerous former members of Remnant Fellowship, explored allegations of harassment and emotional abuse, outlined the trail of toxicity behind the Weigh Down Workshop’s teachings of fat as a manifestation of sin, and accepted that Shamblin, 66, would probably never agree to an interview. “They don’t want to go on record,” Zenovich told the Guardian. “They want to continue doing what they’re doing, which is controlling people. So we tried – we sent letters to a lot of leaders – but no one responded.”
Earlier this month, in response to allegations made in the film, Remnant issued a formal statement, presented at the end of the series, in which the church “categorically denies the absurd defamatory statements and accusations made in this documentary” and assures “children are happy and healthy, being raised with the most love, care, support and protection imaginable”.
Then, on 29 May, Shamblin and her husband, former Tarzan actor Joe Lara, as well as five other leaders within Remnant Fellowship, died in a plane crash outside Smyrna, Tennessee. The crash now opens The Way Down, a multi-part series on HBO Max, with the first three episodes – on Shamblin’s rise to popularity among evangelical churches, her increasingly controversial teachings and allegations of child abuse – premiering this week. Two more episodes on the crash, its investigation and the transition of power to Shamblin’s two children, will land in spring 2022.
https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radi ... fellowship
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