As soon as Keith Raniere was arrested and charged with sex trafficking and a bunch of other charges, it became inevitable that there would be a slew of books, movies and podcasts about him and his sex-slaver cult.
That’s because the underlying story had all the elements that make for a good story: SEX, Hollywood actresses, SEX, money, SEX, dead and missing women, SEX, a cult – and, oh yeah, SEX.
And that’s exactly what’s happened.
Escaping the NXIVM Cult
So far, only one film has been released – Escaping the NXIVM Cult – a made-for-television docudrama that first appeared on the Lifetime network on Saturday, September 21st. It was re-broadcast last night – and for those of you who still haven’t seen it, you’ll get another chance at 12:00 Noon on Saturday, October 5th.
Those who have seen the film have generally been impressed with the portrayals of the main characters – which, per Lifetime’s perspective, are Catherine Oxenberg, Keith Raniere, and India Oxenberg.
Given that this movie was based on the novel written by Catherine – Captive: A Mother’s Crusade to Save Her Daughter from a Terrifying Cult – it is certainly not surprising that those would be the three main characters in this movie.
As Entertainment’s review of the movie indicated, “Instead of telling of telling the story of how (Allison) Mack became one of the leaders of the group that resulted in her pleading guilty to racketeering and racketeering conspiracy charges, viewers actually saw the true-crime case play out from Catherine Oxenberg’s perspective as her daughter India became brainwashed by the group. Dynasty actress Oxenberg used her own memories and writing from her book Captive: A Mother’s Crusade to Save Her Daughter from a Terrifying Cult as well as all the research she did into NXIVM for the movie’s plot”.
Because the movie only covers the timespan from when Catherine and India first attended a NXIVM training seminar until when India breaks from the cult following Raniere’s arrest in Mexico, it leaves out much of the cult’s 20-year history.
There’s no mention. for example, of Gina Hutchinson’s supposed suicide, Kristin Snyder’s disappearance, the break-away of the NXIVM Nine, the Times Union award-winning series on Raniere and the cult, or the many local officials who were bribed or intimidated into allowing the cult to become an international criminal enterprise.
The film also conflates various events – and just makes up others in order to streamline the story. I say that not to be critical but simply to forewarn Frank Report readers that have not yet seen the movie to understand that it’s a “docudrama” and not a “documentary” (A docudrama is generally defined as “a dramatized television movie based on real events”).
Catherine has made clear on several occasions that she had no control over the content of the film – and given Lifetime’s reputation for maximizing the use of “creative license” in making such films, no one should be disappointed that it does not always portray what happened in real life.
The fact that this film brought some much-needed attention to the real-world dangers of cults like NXIVM is reason enough for people to watch it.
A Few Quibbles
Notwithstanding my support for the film, there are a few things that I wish Lifetime had done a better on. Such as:
I wish the film had given more credit to the role that Frank Parlato played in taking down Raniere and NXIVM. While it does show Catherine calling Frank to seek his help in getting India out of the cult – and the two of them discussing the difficulty they both faced in getting law enforcement officials to do anything – it totally omits the role that Frank played in putting together the dossier of incriminating materials that Catherine eventually delivered to the authorities.
I also wish that the film had made it clear that, although frustrated with the lack of response from law enforcement officials after he had broken the story of the brandings that were going on in DOS, Frank never once thought of giving up on his quest to take down Raniere and NXIVM.
To the contrary, the lack of any response to his initial reports on the brandings only spurred Frank on to keep digging into the story – and coming up with the names of more and more women who had been duped into getting branded with Raniere’s initials on their pubis.
It was Frank who would-be defectors were calling at all hours of the night – and asking for advice on how to escape from Raniere’s clutches.
It was Frank that others were calling to provide him with the names of more branded DOS women.
It was Frank who worked so closely with New York Times reporter Barry Meier to ensure that there was factual evidence to back up every detail in the story that Barry eventually wrote about NXIVM and DOS.
And, unbeknownst to many, it was Frank who had arranged for the story about NXIVM and DOS to be published in another major newspaper if the New York Times had procrastinated much longer.
More Serious Criticism
While many have lauded the movie and came away with the notion that it was Catherine alone who took down Nxivm, others who were deeply involved with the fight felt they got the short shrift or worse were portrayed insultingly.
This does not include Frank Parlato who said, when asked about his ridiculously diminished role, “It’s only a movie”.
But some of the people who really deserved credit – such as Bonnie Piesse, who worked hard to get Catherine to understand the danger India was in and Mark Vicente, who had a huge role in the takedown of Nxivm, [both of whom were side by side with Catherine in most of her brave endeavors] were represented very poorly and in a most unflattering light. Sarah Edmondson also comes off rather flighty and foolish in the film.
It could be called in some respects a slap in the face to those who made all the difference.
Yet, these were the people who did their best to help her rescue Catherine’s daughter and without their help and Frank Parlato’s help, India might still in Nxivm and Raniere might still branding women.
You wouldn’t know it from the movie.
At the end of the day, her critics say, Catherine might have done more to protect some of her friends and see to it that they were represented more honestly. Though Catherine has said she gave up creative control, it’s probably true that before making the deal with Lifetime, she could have insisted on some protection from distortion of her work.
While she has gained some glamour and renown from the movie of “Catherine single handed takes down the cult” – some of the very people who made it possible were hurt and insulted. What does that augur in the real world of authenticity?
You make yourself more famous but you hurt your friends who in real life actually saved you?
For those who prefer more fact-based presentations, there are several upcoming documentaries about NXIVM and Raniere that will, hopefully, be much more fact-based than the Lifetime movie. These include the following:
Beyond the Headlines: Escaping the NXIVM Cult with Gretchen Carlson – A&E: This already aired on September 21st right after the Lifetime movie – and it included terrific interviews with Catherine and Frank. We’re still looking to see if this might be rebroadcast sometime soon.
NXIVM: Self-Help or Sex Cult – E! Hollywood Story: October 6th – 10:00 PM (EDT
The Lost Women of NXIVM – Investigation Discovery: Dec. 7
The Vow – HBO 8-part series: Tentative airing in January 2020
In addition, we have also heard word of three other documentaries that may be coming out next year. One of those is being considered by the BBC – and the other two are on French and Australian television.
Books & Podcasts
Sometime soon, we will be publishing our reviews of all the NXIVM-related books that have been released to date (There are also at least two others being written right now). If any readers would like to share their thoughts on any of those books, please send an email with that information to Frank at firstname.lastname@example.org. And, as always, if you have a tip that you’d like to share with Frank – either on the record or anonymously – you can reach him at 716.990.5740.