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Jennifer Grey is Barely Recognizable as Alleged Cult Leader Gwen Shamblin Lara

Rosemary Giles
Photo Credit: Emma McIntyre / WireImage

There will be no romantic training montages or broody heartthrobs for actress Jennifer Grey in her upcoming Gwen Shamblin: Starving for Salvation role. The Dirty Dancing star will instead be donning a heavily teased blonde wig to play, as the name suggests, the controversial Christian diet creator and church leader Gwen Shamblin Lara. Grey released a sneak peek of her look on Instagram and is completely unrecognizable as Shamblin.

Weight loss guru

Shamblin first rose to prominence for her diet program, “Weight Down Workshop,” which encouraged followers to use their faith as part of their weight loss regimen. The program includes sentiments like “If you focus your attention on God and prayer instead of the magnetic pull of the refrigerator, it’s amazing how free you’ll be.”

Gwen Shamblin with voluminous blonde hair and a black dress.

Gwen Shamblin posing for a photograph in 2018. (Photo Credit: Scott Sabo / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0)

Shamblin’s program was extremely successful and she drew in hundreds of thousands of followers interested in her method of losing weight. In response to this popularity, she published her book The Weigh Down Diet in 1997 which promptly became a bestseller. During this time, the guru was part of the Church of Christ but decided to leave them in 1999 due to rules that prevented females in church leadership roles.

Remnant Fellowship Church

Instead, Shamblin started the Remnant Fellowship Church where she could act as a leader and continue to spread her beliefs on everything from diet to faith. The physical church was built in Brentwood, Tennessee in 2004, but there were many other congregations spread out across the world that followed her beliefs. Shamblin preached about things like their family affairs, finances, and social media.

Aerial view of the Remnant Fellowship Church at dusk.

The original Remnant Fellowship Church in Brentwood, Tennessee, that was founded by Gwen Shamblin Lara, 2015. (Photo Credit: Shawn Ide/ Flickr/ CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Many soon claimed that her practices were cult-like and harmful, promoting women as submissive to their husbands, imposing isolation from outsiders, and condoning abuse as a way to ensure obedience from children in the church. In 2003, an incident occurred involving two members who beat their son to death after Shamblin encouraged them to use “harsh discipline” on him.

As allegations continued to spiral and outsiders began investigating the church, something truly shocking happened. Shamblin, her husband Joe, and a group of other congregation members and church leaders were killed in a plane crash on May 29, 2021. Church operations were taken over by Shamblin’s daughter Elizabeth Shamblin Hannah not long afterward.

Jennifer Grey in Gwen Shamblin: Starving for Salvation

Gwen Shamblin: Starving for Salvation will be the next film to depict the life of the Remnant church leader. Previously, HBO produced a five-part mini-series, The Way Down: God, Greed, and the Cult of Gwen Shamblin, which was released in two parts in late 2021 and early 2022. After this success, HBO is also planning to create a scripted version of the series starring Sarah Paulson as Shamblin.

Lifetime’s production is part of the Ripped from the Headline movie series and is slated for release by the network on February 4, 2023. Alongside Grey, the film will feature Karen Cliche, Brittany Drisdelle, Connor McMahon, and Evelyne Morissette.

More from us: The Craziest ‘Unsolved Mysteries’ Case That Was Actually Solved

Despite the Remnant Fellowship Church’s insistence that HBO’s allegations against their founder were false, public intrigue surrounding Gwen Shamblin Lara and her life hasn’t abated.

Rosemary Giles

Rosemary Giles is a history content writer with Hive Media. She received both her bachelor of arts degree in history, and her master of arts degree in history from Western University. Her research focused on military, environmental, and Canadian history with a specific focus on the Second World War. As a student, she worked in a variety of research positions, including as an archivist. She also worked as a teaching assistant in the History Department.

Since completing her degrees, she has decided to take a step back from academia to focus her career on writing and sharing history in a more accessible way. With a passion for historical learning and historical education, her writing interests include social history, and war history, especially researching obscure facts about the Second World War. In her spare time, Rosemary enjoys spending time with her partner, her cats, and her horse, or sitting down to read a good book.

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