In some ways, when God closes a door he really does open a window. Although viewers and creators of HBO Max alike overwhelmingly lament the crippling layoffs and content eradication that’s become the norm ahead of a merger with Discovery+, there are those individuals who don’t see the changes as a bad thing at all. At the top of the list: Elizabeth Hannah, the daughter of controversial pastor and diet maven Gwen Lara Shamblin. The story of Shamblin’s Weigh Down Workshops, and her eventual Remnant Fellowship church in Brentwood, Tennessee, was the subject of a 2021 documentary series on HBO Max titled The Way Down: God, Greed, and the Cult of Gwen Shamblin.
The series chronicled Shamblin and her followers’ insular and often destructive congregation, which Shamblin and her husband Joe Lara led with an iron fist until their untimely deaths in a plane crash in 2021. The documentary investigated claims from congregation members and connected individuals that Shamblin encouraged violence against children and disordered eating, and also severely limited her congregation’s social mobility and contact with the outside world.
Despite (or, perhaps more aptly, given) the claims, Hannah has a bit of an ax to grind with the streamer and its representation of her world. In a video obtained by Variety from an August 6 sermon at the Remnant Fellowship, Hannah discussed HBO Max’s recent losses and called them a “big win.” After revealing to the congregation that HBO had its largest one-day drop in its stock price ever, the congregation reportedly gave a 34-second standing ovation.
“This is nothing against any particular news station or any particular social media or any particular, you know, media streamline—and anything like that. But because that particular channel chose to go up against my mother—and all of us, and those that I believe are following the spirit of God—I have been praying,” Hannah says. “I have been praying, and I have been praying so hard to God would close the mouths of the enemy.”
Remnant Fellowship has long maintained a negative relationship with HBO Max, and has a lengthy open letter regarding The Way Down on their website. “Remnant Fellowship categorically denies the absurd, defamatory statements and accusations made in this documentary,” the press release begins. “We feel this documentary was yet again another Hollywood and media attack on religion.”
Although The Way Down’s producers and creative team have not responded to Hannah’s sermon, the Remnant Fellowship shouldn’t count all their down-with-media heavenly blessings too swiftly. HBO Max confirmed with Variety that a scripted version of the documentary helmed by The Act’s Michelle Dean is still very much in active development (although one can only imagine wrangling a wig budget alone places any full-formed series a bit far out.)