THE VOW, a nine-part documentary series directed by Emmy-winning and Academy award nominated Jehane Noujaim and Karim Amer debuts Sunday, August 23 (10:00-11:00 p.m. ET/PT), with new episodes airing subsequent Sundays at the same time. The series explores the world of the controversial self-improvement group NXIVM.
THE VOW will be available on HBO and to stream on HBO Max.
With remarkable access to insiders and former members, THE VOW follows a range of people who joined NXIVM, a self-improvement group that disintegrated with criminal charges brought against its highest members. The show takes a deep, nuanced look at the experiences of many of the group’s participants, spotlighting their universal desire for personal growth and their internal conflicts over events as they unfold.
NXIVM was founded in 1998 by Keith Raniere and Nancy Salzman. Within a few years, the company grew into an influential, international organization with thousands of members, including accomplished executives, Hollywood stars, wealthy heirs and the children of political dynasties.
Amidst claims by NXIVM participants of both profound transformation and devastating abuse, the series reveals the complicated truths behind the sensational headlines – a signature of Noujaim and Amer’s previous films. It explores the emotional toll of unfolding events on individuals who hoped to lead better lives and change the world with Raniere’s espoused humanitarian philosophy. The series illuminates how members were drawn to NXIVM’s ethical mission and promise. THE VOW takes viewers inside NXIVM, seen through the lens of former members who had dedicated their lives to the organization.
The project was personal for Noujaim, who, in 2010, attended Executive Success Programs, NXIVM’s flagship seminar, and explored making a film about the experience. Over the years, she kept in touch with the people she’d met. In 2017, whispers of a controversial secret sorority emerged, and several high-ranking members defected. Noujaim and Amer began filming, not knowing where the story would lead.
Controversial reports had emerged as early as 2003, but in 2017, New York Times ran a story with disquieting revelations 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.
By 2019 Raniere was convicted of crimes including racketeering, sex trafficking, forced labor conspiracy, identity theft, and production and possession of child pornography. He awaits sentencing, which is expected this fall.
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. With devastating candor, former NXIVM members grapple with their sense of responsibility as they face losing friendships, careers and the community they helped to build over a decade. The film offers a view into the lives of former members whose commitment to growth and a better world fueled their devotion to NXIVM and Raniere, following them as they question the intent of the teachings and the organization that had been at the center of their lives.
A story that begins with students devoted to personal improvement and an ethical worldview ends with them engaged in a federal investigation.
Episode 1: “The Science of Joy”
Debuts date: SUNDAY, AUGUST 23 (10:00-11:00 p.m. ET/PT)
Mark Vicente and Sarah Edmondson, high-ranking former NXIVM leaders, describe the dream and mission of NXIVM to build a better world. Bonnie Piesse, Mark’s wife, tells him she is worried about the organization and Keith Raniere, NXIVM’s leader and Mark’s mentor. Mark believes there must be a misunderstanding – how could tools to make a better, more ethical world be misused?
Episode 2: “Viscera”
Debuts date: SUNDAY, AUGUST 30 (10:00-11:00 p.m. ET/PT)
After seven years, Bonnie leaves Albany and NXIVM for Los Angeles to make sense of it all. She tries desperately to get through to Mark, who reassures her all is well. Meanwhile, Mark remains loyal to Keith and NXIVM, but a series of phone calls begin to sow doubt within him.
Episode 3: “At Cause”
Debut date: SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 6 (10:00-11:00 p.m. ET/PT)
Sarah confides to Mark about DOS, a secret women’s group involving “masters” and “slaves.” She struggles in her relationships with NXIVM, her husband Nippy, and her best friend. Nippy confronts the organization he’s helped grow for 15 years. Sarah and Mark lament how many members they’ve recruited and question what to do next.
Episode 4: “Building Character”
Debut date: SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 13 (10:00-11:00 p.m. ET/PT)
Mark, Bonnie, Sarah and Nippy strategize with Catherine Oxenberg about how to get her daughter, India, out of DOS, even though she wants to stay. “Jane,” a former member and India’s close friend, describes the appeal of the organization and of DOS, and why she left it all behind.
Episode 5: “Class 1 Data”
Debut date: SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 20 (10:00-11:00 p.m. ET/PT)
Catherine believes her daughter is in danger and wants her to come home. But she and the former members are unable to get the attention of the authorities, so they approach the New York Times. While weighing the pros and cons of going on record, Mark reflects on his time at NXIVM.
Episode 6: “Honesty & Disclosure”
Debut date: SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 27 (10:00-11:00 p.m. ET/PT)
When they see no action by the authorities, Sarah, Mark, and Nippy contact additional news outlets to provoke outrage and pressure law enforcement to pay attention. Barbara Bouchey, a former board member and early defector, shares her insight into NXIVM and reflects on her time in Keith’s inner circle.
Image via screengrab