In Oscar-winning director (Taxi to the Dark Side) Alex Gibney’s controversial new documentary Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, which premiered to a packed house Sunday night at the Sundance Film Festival, several former Scientologists – among them, Oscar winner Paul Haggis – hold back little when it comes to long-whispered-about topics about the church, including claims of brainwashing, physical abuse, and meddling in the lives of A-listers John Travolta and Tom Cruise.
Claim 1: The Church Was Behind Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman’s Divorce
In the film, a former senior executive at the church says Scientology leader David Miscavige asked him to “facilitate the break-up” of Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. The documentary goes on to state in detail how Miscavige was not happy with how Cruise’s relationship with Kidman caused the actor to drift from the church. (Kidman’s late father, Dr. Anthony Kidman, was a practicing psychologist, and the church dismisses the science.)
The former members go so far as to claim that Miscavige and Cruise requested Kidman’s phones be tapped and that attempts were made to actively turn the couple’s two children against Kidman.
Claim 2: Miscavige Physically and Mentally Abused Members of the Church
Former Church member Sylvia “Spanky” Taylor alleges she was subjected to horrific working and living conditions as part of a punishment designed to keep straying Scientologists in line. As a part of her time in what was called the “Rehabilitation Project Force,” Taylor states in the film that she and approximately 200 others were on schedules for working 30 hours straight with just three hour breaks for sleeping. She goes on to say her infant daughter was separated from her until she was able to orchestrate an escape and rescue her “neglected” daughter from a “urine-soaked crib.”
Other former members claimed they were voluntarily imprisoned on a compound where they were physically abused by other church members. This included Miscavige himself, per the film. At least one member was told to “clean the bathroom floor with his tongue,” according to the documentary.
Claim 3: The Church Has a "Black PR" File on John Travolta
When Travolta came to Scientology in the mid-1970s, he was “a troubled young man who needed help,” according to Wright. Taylor – who was assigned to be his liaison to the church – says Travolta began to find success and was taught to believe “if I leave, it will all go down the tubes.”
But despite Travolta’s devotion to the church, former members claim that when he showed signs of doubt, Miscavige asked that notes from his auditing session (where members are asked to confess secrets to other members) be looked through and a “black PR” file be created with all of the secrets he had divulged in hopes that if they had to, they could use the collateral to keep him in line.
The film included a disclaimer stating that the church “declined all requests for interviews.” But in response to the film’s debut as Sundance on Sunday, it released this statement to PEOPLE:
“As we stated in our New York Times ad on January 16, Alex Gibney’s film is Rolling Stone/University of Virginia redux. Despite repeated requests over three months, Mr. Gibney and HBO refused to provide the Church with any of the allegations in the film so it could respond. They also refused to speak with any of the 25 Church representatives, former spouses and children of their sources who flew to New York to meet and provide them with firsthand knowledge regarding assertions made in Mr. Wright’s book and presumably in Mr. Gibney’s film. Their sources are the usual collection of obsessive, disgruntled former Church members kicked out as long as 30 years ago for malfeasance, who have a documented history of making up lies about the Church for money. The Church is committed to free speech. However, free speech is not a free pass to broadcast or publish false information. We invite you to view our complete statement, correspondence and documented facts at freedommag.org/hbo.”
Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief airs March 16 on HBO.