HBO's 'Going Clear' Documentary Aims to Reveal Harsh Truth About Scientology Despite Hollywood Pressure

( [email protected] ) Nov 26, 2014 03:05 PM EST
The Church of Scientology. Photo:

Cable giant HBO has announced today that it is backing a new documentary that aims to reveal the truth about Scientology and its connection to Hollywood.

The documentary is based on the best-selling book "Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief" by Pultizer Prize-winning author Lawrence Wright. In it, Wright digs deeper into the life of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard and his church's connection to Hollywood's biggest stars, including the most vocal backers John Travolta and Tom Cruise.

But the reason many in Hollywood are fighting the arrival of this documentary is Wright's claims of physical abuse and imprisonment that he writes about in the book.

"The stories of alleged physical abuse are lies concocted by a small group of self-corroborating confessed liars," Scientologist's spokewoman, Karin Pouw, told CNN during a 2013 interview. "The hard evidence clearly shows that no such conduct ever occurred and that in fact there is evidence that shows it did NOT occur."

To keep the accusations and allegations civil on both fronts, HBO has hired 160 lawyers to go over the film, according to HBO Documentary Films President Sheila Nevins. The crew is bracing for an aggressive response from the church when it submits the finished product to the Sundance Film Festival in January.

This is not the first time HBO has clashed with the Church of Scientology, according to a report at the Hollywood Reporter. In 1998, the documentary "Dead Blue: Surviving Depression" conjured protests from the church's members in front of HBO's Midtown Manhattan headquarters. The Scientologist protesters had a problem with the way the documentary painted antidepressant drugs and psychiatry in a positive light.

"I didn't see what [antidepressants] had to do with Scientology until I worked on that film, until I saw these people outside the building," recalls Nevins. "I thought they must be a union protest. But it was our film they were protesting. They're so anti-psychiatry, anti-medicine and anti-Freud. It was really quite interesting."

HBO is also no stranger to making controversial documentaries that anger large churches and government agencies. The 2012 documentary "Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God" was not exactly a favorite of the Catholic Church after it exposed clerical sex abuse, and 2007's "Taxi to the Dark Side" revealed the beating death of an Afghan taxi driver at the hands of U.S. soldiers. Both of these films were directed by Alex Gibney, who will also be directing "Going Clear" for HBO.

Author Wright has said that he's already received threatening letters from lawyers representing Hollywood Scientologists, but he's not going to back down. His controversial book originated from a 2011 New Yorker article about filmmaker and former Scientologist Paul Haggis that caught the attention of the church. When lawyers pressured UK publisher Transworld to remove the book from its lineup, the company gave in, making it unavailable in the UK.

"Going Clear" was published in the US in 2013 and features interviews and testimony from over 200 current and former members of Scientology. "There are a lot of people out there who were very high up in the church and know a lot about it who have become outspoken," Wright said in an interview with the New York Times. "I'm very lucky to come along at a time when a lot of these people are ready to talk."

The book was a finalist for the National Book Awards for Nonfiction and the 2013 National Book Critics Circle Award. The documentary is aiming for a 2015 release.