'Escaping the NXIVM Cult: A Mother's Fight to Save Her Daughter' airs this weekend.

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September 20, 2019 at 04:59 PM EDT
Chris Reardon/Lifetime

The stranger-than-fiction true story of Smallville actress Allison Mack’s sex-trafficking case has played out in headlines for more than year ever since she was arrested in April 2018. A year later, Mack pleaded guilty to racketeering and racketeering conspiracy charges for her involvement in the NXIVM cult. It didn’t take long for the scandal to get the Lifetime movie treatment, dramatizing the real-life case in Escaping the NXIVM Cult: A Mother’s Fight to Save Her Daughter, which debuts this weekend.

Here’s everything you need to know about the dramatization of the real-life controversy, from the plot to the cast to how you can watch the movie for yourself.

What’s it about?

Smallville alum Mack was arrested by federal authorities last year after it was revealed that she recruited women to be sex slaves for alleged self-help group NXIVM’s founder, Keith Raniere. After previously pleading not guilty to charges including sex trafficking and conspiracy to commit sex trafficking and forced labor, Mack pleaded guilty to racketeering and racketeering conspiracy charges; according to the Associated Press, Mack wept as she admitted her crimes, telling a judge, “I believed Keith Raniere’s intentions were to help people, and I was wrong.” (Her sentencing, originally scheduled for this month, has been postponed; she faces up to 40 years in prison.)

Founded in 2003, NXIVM was described as a group that offered self-help classes, but prosecutors allege that Raniere — known as “Vanguard” to his followers — encouraged the formation of a secretive subgroup called “Dominus Obsequious Sororium,” (DOS) in which women were coerced into serving as sex slaves to their male masters and had Raniere’s initials branded near their pubic region. One former member described NXIVM as a “cult,” and the group has been investigated by both law enforcement and journalists ever since Dynasty actress Catherine Oxenberg, whose estranged daughter, India, joined the group in 2011, spoke out against it, claiming India had been “brainwashed.”

While Lifetime movies always take creative liberties with ripped-from-the-headlines true crime stories, Escaping the NXIVM Cult: A Mother’s Fight to Save Her Daughter actually follows the facts of the case pretty closely. But instead of telling the story about Mack and Raniere, who have dominated headlines, the movie flips the perspective to the real-life mother/daughter duo who helped expose the sex cult: Catherine and India.

According to the official synopsis for the Lifetime movie, Catherine learns about a leadership seminar from a new organization called NXIVM, and so she decides to take her 20-year-old daughter India to the professional development meeting. Led by the extremely enigmatic Raniere, Catherine can’t help but shake the feeling there’s more than meets the eye with the self-help organization. Despite Catherine’s best efforts, India is drawn deeper into the cult, eventually joining a secret sorority of female members who are branded with the cult leader’s initials, ordered to maintain a restricted diet, and forced to recruit other women as sex slaves.

Escaping the NXIVM Cult: A Mother’s Fight to Save Her Daughter tells the story “of a mother who will stop at nothing to get her daughter back and exposes the intricate seductive power of Mack and Raniere and the mental and physical abuse India fell victim to.”

Lifetime

Who’s in the cast?

Andrea Roth (Rescue Me, The Collector, RoboCop: The Series) will play Catherine, and Jasper Polish (The Astronaut Farmer, Some Kind of Hate) will play India. As for the villains of the film, Peter Facinelli (The Twilight franchise, Can’t Hardly Wait, Supergirl) will play NXIVM leader Raniere, while Sara Fletcher (Secret Girlfriend, One Love, Mom Tested) will play Mack.

Escaping the NXIVM Cult: A Mother’s Fight to Save Her Daughter is directed by Lisa Robinson (Claire in Motion) and written by Adam Mazer (Empire State).

When does it air?

Whether you’re planning to watch live or set your DVR to watch later, plan ahead now: the movie premieres Saturday, Sept. 21 at 8 p.m. on Lifetime and is followed at 10 p.m. by Beyond the Headlines: Escaping the NXIVM Cult With Gretchen Carlson.

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