In describing how NXIVM operated, ‘Seduced: Inside the NXIVM Cult” showrunners Cecilia Peck and Inbal Lessner explain that it really is on the same level as being in a physically or emotionally abusive relationship. “I think so many people have been in a coercive relationship that’s hard to get out of. There’s really no difference between a domestic abuse relationship, where you just feel so broken down and you feel there’s nowhere to go,” Peck explains. She hopes that this documentary can help viewers understand how people can become involved with harmful groups like NXIVM. “That’s what these women were in and especially someone like India [Oxenburg], who went in at 19 and was broken down by them for seven years. It’s very hard to imagine that you can have another life.”
“Seduced” is a four-part docuseries, currently available on Starz, that explores the group known as NXIVM. The group, led by Keith Raniere, was promoted as a self-help group that offered classes, retreats and opportunities to help teach others the way of the group. In actuality, the organization was being used by Raniere to groom women into joining a “secret sisterhood” that acted as his personal sex slaves. Raniere was arrested in 2018 and the following year was sentenced to 120 years in prison for his crimes.
Much of the story is told through the perspective of India Oxenberg, daughter of actress Catherine Oxenberg. India’s involvement in the project was not something that Peck and Lessner had originally planned on. Peck says that they were brought by several former NXIVM members to the courthouse where Raniere’s trial was taking place to watch the verdict come in. That was where they first met India and started to talk to her about possibly sharing what she’d been through. “She had been through a long process of deprogramming. She had worked with the FBI and provided evidence that was very helpful in convicting Keith Raniere and she was beginning to think about telling her story.”
For Lessner, who also served as the lead editor of the series, it was incredibly difficult to try and condense so many aspects of India’s story, especially for the show’s first episode. “It was a very difficult job distilling the first five years of India in the cult down to 90 minutes of the essence of her getting hooked, lured in and indoctrinated up to the point where she had thoughts that she would die for Keith.” But even with how difficult the task was, Lessner is proud of the final product and specifically the fact that it doesn’t wander and knows the message it is trying to convey to the viewers. “We’re very proud of having a clear focus and spine to the story which, for me, is the tension between what India and the others thought was happening versus what was actually happening. That tension is what really drives the story forward.”
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