×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

‘Wild Wild Country’: Ma Anand Sheela Talks New Online Support and Criticism After Netflix Docuseries

Ma Anand Sheela, one of the main subjects of the Netflix docuseries “Wild Wild Country,” has become a breakout star of sorts, tearing the internet apart with debates regarding whether the former spokesperson of the Rajneesh cult should be celebrated or scorned.

Over the course of six episodes, the documentary explores how Sheela, secretary to religious guru Bhagwan Rajneesh, and her group founded a commune in rural Oregon in the ’80s named Rajneeshpuram, which quickly led to a battle with the local townspeople. Sheela goes from confidently flashing middle fingers at her critics to eventually landing in jail, convicted of attempted murder, and gives her take on the events 30 years later.

On Tuesday, Sheela joined a panel for Netflix’s “Wild Wild Country” FYSee event via video from her home in Switzerland, where she discussed the documentary and her time leading the cult, alongside directors Chapman and Maclain Way and executive producer Mark Duplass.

“I’m getting a lot of extra work now and the peace of my life has been disturbed,” she said of the documentary’s impact since its March release. “I have been getting lots of positive responses, people feel with my conviction, with my readiness to protect the community and Bhagwan.”

Sheela added that although she didn’t know what the Way brothers would do with the material after she sat for almost 35 hours of recorded interviews, she felt an obligation to share her story. “It was a beautiful life I have lived. It is a life that I have learned a great deal and this experience that I have had was one in a million,” she said. “There is nothing that I can say that would stop me from talking. For me, it is a life-enriching experience and one should not hide such experiences or be afraid to talk about it.”

Duplass questioned if Sheela knew what a large pop culture figure she had become, spawning plenty of memes and social media hashtags. “It’s really fascinating to me because I would say 99 out of 100 posts are from a lot of young women who say ‘Sheela’s a badass’ (or) ‘I love Sheela’ and one person will come out and (write), ‘Yes, but she did all of these horrible things’ and then another 99 people will come out and lambast that person who said that thing about you,” he said.

She replied, “No, I didn’t know how the world is taking it, but I’m happy that through me the attention to females has been given, through me it is again becoming important not to discriminate against gender or the color or the religion. From that point of view, I’m very happy about it, and I have nothing to regret.”

Elsewhere during the panel, Duplass discussed diving into the documentary filmmaking world after being a longtime fan, largely because he and his brother, Jay Duplass, “see a lot of ourselves” in the Way brothers. The two were given more than 300 hours of footage, mostly recorded by local news stations, on the turmoil surrounding Rajneeshpuram, and dropped another project they were working on to pursue the series.

Chapman credited Sheela with being the main reason why they created the series, saying, “We started seeing Sheela in the footage and to be honest, she’s such a powerful, strong-willed character. She speaks her mind and it felt like she had a story to tell and hadn’t really been given the opportunity to explain what happened in eastern Oregon through her lens.”

Maclain added, “To be totally honest, the idea of telling the story of Rajneeshpuram without Sheela was totally incomprehensible to me. It was almost like if she wasn’t going to do it, then we weren’t going to do the series. Besides Bhagwan, who’s no longer with us, Sheela to me seemed to be the most essential voice to capture.”

POPULAR ON VARIETY:

More Scene

  • Noah CentineoNickelodeon Kids' Choice Awards, Show,

    Kids’ Choice Awards 2019: JoJo Siwa, Noah Centineo Take on Bullying

    This year’s Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards was full of positivity and encouragement to be yourself. DJ Khaled, known for his upbeat mantras, hosted the 32nd annual awards ceremony alongside JoJo Siwa at USC’s Galen center. Siwa accepted the award for favorite social music star. Siwa said in her acceptance speech, “I get hated on every [...]

  • Tina KnowlesSoul of Nation: Art in

    Jay-Z, Tina Knowles Celebrate New 'Soul of a Nation' Exhibit at Broad Museum

    “This show is so important. I mean, it’s our history — and it’s a very important part of our journey,” Tina Knowles Lawson said about Friday night’s opening of the exhibition “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power 1963 – 1983” at the Broad Museum in DTLA. “I’m just so impressed [...]

  • Jordan Peele'Us' film premiere, Arrivals, New

    Jordan Peele Explains the Meaning Behind the 'Us' Michael Jackson Reference

    Jordan Peele’s horror movie “Us” is filled with pop culture references, from “Jaws” to “Goonies.” But the most divisive might be right in his opening sequence. Warning, minor spoilers ahead. The movie about a couple (played by Lupita Nyong’o and Winston Duke) and their children being hunted and brutalized by a mysterious family that looks just [...]

  • Danielle Brooks'Ain't Too Proud - The

    How 'Orange Is the New Black' Star Danielle Brooks Became a Broadway Producer

    Danielle Brooks earned a Tony nomination when she made her Broadway debut as Sofia in the 2015 revival of “The Color Purple,” but now the “Orange Is the New Black” star is working behind the scenes as a producer on the new jukebox musical “Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations.” “I [...]

  • Nick Offerman Amy Poehler

    'Parks and Recreation' Cast Talks Possibility of a Revival at 10th Anniversary Reunion

    For one night, Hollywood felt a little like Pawnee. The cast of NBC’s hit comedy “Parks and Recreation” reunited at PaleyFest on Thursday in honor of the show’s 10th anniversary. The whole Pawnee gang showed up: Amy Poehler, Chris Pratt, Aubrey Plaza, Nick Offerman, Aziz Ansari, Rob Lowe, Adam Scott, Rashida Jones, Retta, and Jim [...]

  • Andy CohenThe Shops and Restaurants at

    Andy Cohen to Receive Vito Russo Award at GLAAD Media Awards

    Mazel, Andy Cohen! Bravo’s late-night talk show host is set to receive the Vito Russo Award at the 30th annual GLAAD Media Awards on May 4 in New York City. Sarah Jessica Parker will present him with the award, which is named in honor of GLAAD founder Vito Russo. The annual award goes to openly [...]

  • Variety TV Summit Europe

    Variety TV Summit Europe Coming to London on June 13

    Variety’s TV Summit Europe will coincide with London Tech Week this year, returning to the city on June 13. The international conference will be held at the Royal Lancaster and is co-produced by global events company Informa’s KNect365 division, the world’s largest business-to-business organizer. The one-day summit will focus on the intersection of content and [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content