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An upcoming docuseries promises to tell the story behind the late Gwen Shamblin Lara, who ran a religious group based on purported weight loss secrets from God.
HBO Max released the trailer for “The Way Down: God, Greed and the Cult of Gwen Shamblin,” a five-part series that will premier initial episodes on Sept. 30. While the first three episodes will be released on Thursday, the remaining two are set for release in 2022.
Lara rose to fame in the 1980s with her Weigh Down Workshop. By the 1990s, the Christian-based diet program had infiltrated several churches. By 1998, Weigh Down Workshop hosted thousands of classes with participants around the world. She also founded her own church, the Remnant Fellowship Church in Tennessee, in 1999.
A clip from a deposition, which is included in the trailer for "The Way Down," suggests that some members may have viewed her as a prophet. However, she wasn't seen by all in a positive light.
“Despite a carefully curated image, Lara and the church soon fielded accusations of emotional, psychological, and physical abuse, and exploitation for their alleged cult-like practices,” according to HBO Max.
The church came under fire after two members beat their 8-year-old son to death in 2003. Joseph and Sonya Smith were convicted in 2007 of killing their son, Josef. The two locked the boy in a wooden box and confined him to a closet, NBC News reported in 2007. Authorities raided the church in 2004 as part of the investigation into the boy’s death. While there was controversy as a result, law enforcement officers testified that they could not find a link between the church and the killing.
Lara died in a plane crash in May, along with six others, the Tennessean reported.
“The Way Down” features “years of investigation and extensive interviews with former members and others personally impacted,” according to HBO Max. The series is directed by Emmy-Award-winning filmmaker Marina Zenovich.