UPDATED with teaser and premiere date, 10:37 AM: HBO has set an August 23 premiere date and released the first teaser for The Vow, its documentary series about the NXIVM scandal. Watch the clip above and read details of the series below.
PREVIOUSLY, April 18, 2019: It sounded like a screenplay the moment the feds unsealed the indictments, and now HBO Documentary Films is producing a docuseries exploring the NXIVM organization. That’s the name of the ersatz self-improvement group with which Smallville alumna Allison Mack was involved. She recently pleaded guilty to racketeering charges of sex trafficking, sex trafficking conspiracy and forced labor conspiracy in the case.
Emmy-winning and Oscar-nominated directors Jehane Noujaim and Karim Amer (The Square, Control Room, Startup.com) are helming the untitled series, which will follow a range of people who joined the group. NXIVM has been under siege, with serious federal charges brought against its highest members including founder Keith Raniere. The program will take a deep, nuanced look at experiences of its members, spotlighting their universal desire for personal growth, HBO said.
Noujaim’s interest in the subject began in 2010 when she took NXIVM’s introductory “Executive Success Program” workshop. She brings an illuminating perspective to the media spectacle surrounding this polarized community as it faces federal investigation.
Amidst claims by NXIVM participants of both profound transformation and devastating abuse, the series seeks to reveal the issues behind the headlines and explore the emotional toll of unfolding events on these individuals.
Mack, who played Chloe Sullivan for 10 seasons on Smallville, was indicted a year ago along with Raniere in the case of the self-help program and purported pyramid scheme that federal prosecutors say included operating a shadow society of female “slaves” headed by “masters.”
Here is how the federal prosecutors laid out their case last year:
“According to court filings, during the past 20 years, Raniere established a series of purported self-help programs within his umbrella organization ‘Nxivm’ (pronounced NEX-i-um). Nxivm is based in Albany, New York and has operated centers in the United States, Mexico, Canada and South America. Nxivm maintains features of a pyramid scheme, as its courses cost thousands of dollars each and participants (‘Nxians’) are encouraged to pay for additional classes and to recruit others to take classes in order to rise within the ranks of Nxivm. A number of Nxians were residents of the Eastern District of New York when they were recruited, and Nxivm has held promotional recruiting events in Brooklyn. Mack is credited in publicly available materials with co-creating a Nxivm program, called The Source, which recruited actors.
“As detailed in court filings, in 2015, Raniere created a secret society within Nxivm called ‘DOS,’ an acronym that stands for a Latin phrase that loosely translates to ‘Lord/Master of the Obedient Female Companions,’ or ‘The Vow.’ DOS operated with levels of women ‘slaves’ headed by ‘masters.’ Slaves were expected to recruit slaves of their own (thus becoming masters themselves), who in turn owed service not only to their own masters but also to masters above them in the DOS pyramid. Raniere stood alone at the top of the pyramid. Other than Raniere, all members of DOS were women. Mack is one of the women in the first level of the pyramid immediately below Raniere.
“Mack and other DOS masters recruited DOS slaves by telling them that they were joining a women-only organization that would empower them and eradicate purported weaknesses that the Nxivm curriculum taught were common in women. Mack and other DOS masters concealed Raniere’s status at the top of the pyramid from new recruits.
“As a pre-condition to joining DOS, women were required to provide ‘collateral,’ which included highly damaging information about friends and family members, nude photographs and/or rights to the recruit’s assets. DOS slaves were told that their collateral could be released for any number of reasons, including telling anyone about DOS’s existence or leaving DOS. Many DOS slaves were branded on their pelvic areas using a cauterizing pen with a symbol which, unbeknownst to them, incorporated Raniere’s initials. During the branding ceremonies, slaves were required to be fully naked, and a master would order one slave to film the branding while the others restrained the slave being branded.
“According to court filings, Mack directly or implicitly required her slaves, including Jane Does 1 and 2, as identified in the Indictment, to engage in sexual activity with Raniere. In exchange for this, Mack received financial and other benefits from Raniere. Jane Doe 1 and Jane Doe 2 believed that if they did not participate in those activities with Raniere, their collateral would be released.”