The Church of Scientology hasn’t seen a new documentary on its practices, but is already attacking it, publishing a full page ad in The New York Times Friday accusing the film of reporting false claims about the controversial religion.
The Scientology ad calls out “Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief” director Alex Gibney for supposedly not allowing the organisation to respond to claims made in the film.
Specifically, the ad asks if the documentary is “a Rolling Stone/UVA Redux” — a reference to a now-notorious article in the magazine about rape at the University of Virginia.
“The church’s forceful response risks calling attention to what might have seemed like old news,” Michael Cieply of The Times reports, and “guarantees a combustible debut for a movie that is scheduled to make its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival on Jan. 25, and will screen in a small number of theatres before reaching a wide audience on HBO, beginning on March 16.”
Here’s what the ad looked like in Friday’s Times:
According to The Times, the church is taking issue with interviews with former members and film clips of the church’s practices.
Scientology representatives “said they were entitled to address claims in a movie that was built heavily around on-camera interviews with … former adherents who have painted a picture of declining membership and abusive practices within the church.”
HBO is also being extra careful to make sure the documentary is solid, expecting protests and litigation from the church. Last year, HBO Documentary Films president Sheila Nevins told the Hollywood Reporter that “We have probably 160 lawyers [looking at the film].”
They may have good reason to worry. New Yorker writer Lawrence Wright’s expose of Scientology — “Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief,” which serves as the basis for the documentary — was plagued by protests from the church, which led to the cancellation of the book’s publication in the United Kingdom.
HBO also has a history with the church, according to the Hollywood Reporter:
This is not the first time HBO has tussled with the Church of Scientology. When the network aired the 1998 documentary “Dead Blue: Surviving Depression,” throngs of protesters converged in front of HBO’s midtown Manhattan headquarters, lambasting Nevins and the company for presenting antidepressant drugs in a positive light (Scientologists are opposed to psychiatry).
Former Scientology members, though, hope that this new film will have the power to force major shifts within the church.
“I hope this movie increases public pressure for the church to change its abusive practices,” one former Scientology member told The Times.
This former member specifically highlighted the practice of practice of “disconnection,” according to The Times, “under which members of the church break contact with friends, family members or associates who are deemed to have become hostile toward Scientology.”
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