The sex cult that struck at the heart of Smallville will be explored in depth on HBO. Directed by Emmy-winning and Oscar-nominated filmmakers Jehane Noujaim and Karim Amer, The Vow is a nine-part documentary series focusing on the world surrounding the controversial self-improvement group NXIVM. The first episode debuts Sunday, Aug. 23 at 10:00 p.m. New episodes will air on the subsequent Sundays.
NXIVM was founded in 1998 by Keith Raniere and Nancy Salzman. Within a few years, it grew into an influential, international organization. It had thousands of members, including high-profile followers like Smallville actress Allison Mack and Seagram liquor heiress Clare Bronfman.
NXIVM billed itself as a “a company whose mission is to raise human awareness, foster an ethical humanitarian civilization, and celebrate what it means to be human,” according to its official website. It offered workshops and coaching. The Vow follows a range of people who joined NXIVM, which disintegrated when criminal charges were brought against its highest members.
The documentary takes a deep, nuanced look at the experiences of insiders and former members, spotlighting their “universal desire for personal growth and their internal conflicts over events as they unfold,” according to the press statement. Former members openly discuss their sense of responsibility as they face lost friendships, careers and the community they helped to build over a decade. The series takes viewers inside NXIVM, seen through the lens of former members who had dedicated their lives to the company. The members began with a commitment to growth and a better world fueled their devotion to NXIVM.
Director Noujaim attended Executive Success Programs, NXIVM’s flagship seminar, in 2010. The first controversial reports about the organization emerged as early as 2003. In 2017, whispers of a controversial secret sorority emerged, and several high-ranking members defected. In 2017, The New York Times ran a story about a secret, female-only sect called DOS, derived from a Latin acronym meaning “Master of Obedient Women.” Initiates were required to ensure their dedication by handing over incriminating “collateral” to their “master.” Then, in a ceremony, some were branded as a symbol of their commitment.
Noujaim and Amer began filming in 2017, not knowing where the story would lead. The Vow “takes a journey deep inside the world of people who devoted their life to NXIVM’s mission, clarifying the powerful draw of Raniere and the organization,” according to the press statement. “A story that begins with students devoted to personal improvement and an ethical worldview ends with them engaged in a federal investigation.”
Raniere was convicted of crimes including racketeering, sex trafficking, forced labor conspiracy, identity theft, and production and possession of child pornography in 2019. He awaits sentencing, which is expected this fall.
The Vow debuts Sunday, Aug. 23 at 10:00 p.m. It will be available on HBO and to stream on HBO Max.