Sundance: ‘Going Clear’ Creators Say Tom Cruise Should Speak Out Against Scientology’s Abuses

Tom Cruise
JB Lacroix/WireImage

No documentary has inspired more controversy at this year’s Sundance Film Festival than “Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief.”

It’s a devastating portrait of a religion guided by greed, instead of motivated by altruism. The film alleges that Scientology abuses its rank and file, hitting them up constantly for money, while, in some cases, subjecting them to physical and psychological degradation.

It also points the finger of blame squarely at two of Scientology’s most famous practitioners, John Travolta and Tom Cruise, and shames them for turning a blind eye to the alleged mistreatments.

It’s another hot-button topic for documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney, who took on Wikileaks and Enron in previous films such as “The Smartest Guys in the Room” and “We Steal Secrets.”

Variety sat down with Gibney and Lawrence Wright, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who wrote the book that formed the basis for the film, to discuss Scientology’s links to Hollywood, its alleged abuse of its tax-exempt status and why Cruise and other stars are vital to its survival.

Why has Tom Cruise become the symbol of this religion and how important is he to the church?

Alex Gibney: He’s vital to the church, because he is the most famous Scientologist.

He is their key guy and he is a magnet for people. Very often you’ll ask people what’s Scientology and they’ll say, ‘isn’t that the religion with Tom Cruise’? So he’s their poster boy.

Why is Scientology so entwined with the entertainment business?

Lawrence Wright:  This goes back to the founding; when L. Ron Hubbard created the Church of Scientology, he decided to make its headquarters in Hollywood, because he had a very perceptive notion that there is something that all Americans do worship and it’s celebrity and the capital of celebrity is Hollywood. He set out very early to make it a Scientology town.

They always wanted celebrities who could sell Scientology just like the people on the front of the Wheaties box.

Both the book and film are critical of celebrities like Tom Cruise and John Travolta. What culpability do they have in some of the abuses that you allege the church is guilty of?

AG: By now there is a well-documented record of abuses in the Church of Scientology, yet Cruise and Travolta have never spoken out about them. By not speaking out, it’s a kind of an endorsement and I think that’s why we’re right and properly critical.

LW: They’re selling a product and the product they’re selling is oppressing some of the people inside the church, especially the clergy, which is called the Sea Org, and Cruise has spent countless hours out on the Sea Org base where — on that same base where he has a special chateau — there’s these double wide trailers called the hole, which is a kind of re-education camp where people have been incarcerated for years. Sleeping on the floor on bedrolls with ants crawling around, abused physically, made to lick the floor or the toilet with their tongue. It’s just unbelievable degradation.

If he’s ignorant of that, then it’s willful on his part.

AG: The other thing about Cruise is that he’s been the beneficiary of this unbelievably low-paid Sea Org labor. These people are being paid forty cents an hour and they’re tricking out Cruise’s cars.

LW: We hold people like Tom Cruise and John Travolta and others responsible for not demanding change inside that church.

What’s been the impact of screenwriter and director Paul Haggis’ decision to quit the church and the note he released criticizing the organization?

LW: Paul was really the vanguard. There were a lot of celebrities that had been in the church and left quietly and never really wanted to make their membership known. Paul was the first to leave loudly. He was angry.

His example has, I think, inspired many other Scientologists to look closely at the religion. And actually what is so remarkable about Paul’s story is that for 35 years he didn’t look. This is a typical story where you’re told not to look on the internet. Don’t look at anything disparaging, so he never heard a bad word about Scientology for 34 of those 35 years.

The church has released a statement saying that you did not seek out their members for interviews and you did not give it an opportunity for comment. What’s your reaction?

AG: We reached out for interviews with the people that were relevant to our story. Scientology wanted to send us a delegation of 25 unidentified individuals, presumably to smear the people in our film. I wasn’t interested in that.

Do films and books like “Going Clear” feed a persecution complex on the part of Scientologists? Do they strengthen their bond to their faith?

AW: Probably it feeds a kind of persecution complex at the very top. One thing I’ve discovered over time, having done a number of films about abuses of power, is very often the most powerful people are the ones who feel the most victimized, particularly by criticism.

The testimony of a lot of these people like Paul and others who have left is actually giving tremendous comfort to many people who have been roundly abused and ultimately need the courage to leave the church, because one of the hardest things in leaving the church is to be able to recognize that you’ve made such a terrible mistake for so long.

When people do speak out, what dangers do they face?

AG: Very often they’re smeared. Very often people they work with get letters denigrating them, sometimes trying to embarrass them with pornography.

They’re spied upon 24/7.

Your film raises questions about the church’s tax-exempt status. Sen. Ron Wyden is pushing to re-examine that classification by the IRS. How realistic is it that something could change?

AG: I think it’s realistic. I think it depends on the willpower.

If somebody like Sen. Wyden or others have sufficient willpower, and see what a terrible thing it is that all of us American citizens are effectively subsidizing these ongoing abuses, then maybe there will be the will to do something about it.

I’m fairly certain that a diligent investigation into the Church of Scientology would reveal that it’s not being run as a religion. It’s being run as a business.

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  1. Lazi says:

    I am quite frankly tired of people attacking Scientology. No. I am not a scientologist. I am actually a born again Christian. And for that reason I support their right to practice their beliefs! IF I don’t advocate for them, then who will advocate for us? Why are people so obsessed with attacking these people? Leave them alone. They aren’t hurting people. People CHOOSE to follow them. Let them. If the choose to leave, so be it, but that doesn’t give others a license to judge or condemn them. This is a free country. They have a right to believe what they want. They aren’t hurting people. For goodness sakes, more harm is done to people by our own government then has ever been done by the Church of Scientology. Get real folks, seriously. Leave them alone to worship in peace.

  2. Do you know that Scientology women have to endure silent birth?? Poor Katie and all the other mothers. Then their baby is taken away for a week and fed a nasty Scientology concoction instead of breast feeding or using formula that involves the ingredient honey. Babies aren’t able to metabolize that sweet concoction. The result is a lot of colicky, underweight babies. Apparently, LRH found the recipe when he was in ancient Rome centuries ago. Misogyny abounds in Scientology, as well as child abuse. Tom Cruise knows about all the abuses—he just chooses to ignore them, knowing that his acting career would take a major hit.

  3. It might be very difficult for Cruise to leave. He is a mega-star, giving lots of money to Scientology. When money is involved, WATCH OUT! Oh, for the love of money…

  4. jonas says:

    What about a campaign for Cruise and Travolta that posts in places they cannot miss. An intervention of sorts through billboards and signs they cannot miss stating “Free yourself, Tom, it’s ok” and “Break out of it, Travolta, please”. Some way they can see the millions of people that are supporting their choice to break away.
    Before anyone says they’re not worth doing this for, just think about the people that might break away from the church after even one of them leave.

  5. Sally Atwater says:

    There’s nothing we would love more than a big announcement down the pike that Cruise is leaving Scientology. But that’s not going to happen. Not even close. Everyone here is still giving him the benefit of the doubt that he doesn’t know what is going on within the church. He knows. He knows EXACTLY what is going. It’s so disappointing. He is participating willingly. He had a terrible upbringing. He has no truly close friends. He is sort of this robotic person that acts the way he thinks a guy is supposed to act. He knows alot about disconnection and he has had his own children disconnect from their own Mother. This is guy that knows his way around a negotiation and is in complete control of every moment and action of his life. Maybe we just need to accept that he’s just not that great of guy. Not because he bugged his wife’s phone. So what. People have marital squabbles. Why do you think they don’t want folks going on the internet? They claim it’s about faith but it’s about fear. They are scared that folks will figure it out. Well our friend Tom is pretty prolific when it comes to his way around the internet. He has read the stories. He knows the drill. He knows those people intimately that were featured in Going Clear. He knows. He Knows. He Knows. So it’s not Tom that needs to wake up…it’s everyone else. Everyone wake up….What is the saying? Look at the people you hang around and I will show you who you are. His best friend is David Miscaviage. So that says it all. Tom is like the third guy in charge of the organization. So you want to bring down Scientology? Stop waiting for Cruise to do it for you. Remember when Scientology refuted Spanky’s statement and said that her baby was well taken care of. Ding Ding Ding. Why on earth would you have to be separated from your baby in the first place. Ever? What benefit does that have for the baby? None. I thought they were trying to make the world a better place? Oh yeah…that’s a great start. Separating a baby from her mom. A proven way to cause harm to the child. Just totally ridiculous. Cruise – not that you care but I’m no longer a fan. Money talks and I’ll take mine to see any other movie other than yours. BS walks so keep walking down the Hollywood Walk of Fame but just know when you get to the end of the road – that Bridge that you are looking to cross over? Well take a look back behind you….because all you’ve done…all you’ve done is alot of harm to some good people and the families that they have been forced to disassociate from. That’s a cult my friend. Cults are driven by fear. Make your members afraid so they never speak out or leave. Sir you get the Academy Award for being a total disappointment.

  6. MarcabianCommander says:

    Time magazine summed it up best. “The Cult of Greed and Power” All the upper echelon, i.e.David Miniscavige, cares about is wringing every dime they can from adherents, exerting power over as many lives as possible, and lying to said adherents and the public at large

  7. r.c.bennett says:

    in 1983, Hubbard’s son wrote an article denouncing Scientology & his father’s deceipt. He had initially worked for the CoS, strongarming & intimidating members that tried to leave the cult.

  8. Grace Aaron says:

    My son, Zachary, has not spoken to his father or me in 15 years because if he does he will most likely lose his friends and his livelihood. I understand his point of view, as I once held it myself.

  9. harry georgatos says:

    Scientology is not a religion but a construct to draw as much money out of the individual as possible. With Christianity, Jewish faith and Muslim religions can be described in a single sentence in the meaning of their faith. With the COS it takes years and hundreds of thousands of dollars before one is told that alien souls are in our bodies and must be removed. Each sucker drawn into the cult must reveal all their personal secrets where COS collects all the embarrassing and compromising information and threatens individuals who try to leave the cult!! It’s a money grubbing organisation. Tom Cruise Mission:Impossible franchise has a percentage of it’s profits going to the COS. How Paramount got suckered into that one only confirms the lunatics have taken over the asylum!! COS does not recognize psychiatry and refuse to believe in mental illness! COS know when it comes to mental issues and how the COS operates the courts will only listen to proven psychiatrist when it comes to the practice of this evil and sinister cult, where it can be very difficult for one to extricate themselves from their opressive mindcontrol. Cruise and Travolta will find it very difficult to extricate themselves as the COS have overwhelming data that can bring their careers to an end! COS is all about splitting families and breaking the law when it suits them They have private detectives following people against the Church and are nothing more then organized crime disguizing as a church to extort as much money as possible. Cruise has been successfully brainwashed and there’s no saving him. COS prays on disturbed individuals promising a golden future and oportunities that the church can only give and partake in drug rehabilitation of addicted and emotionally damaged people to draw into the cult. Anyone caught up with this mob have only themselves to blame! Basically they’re criminals!

  10. Kudos, at last you’re doing your job re Going Clear and well done for calling Cruise to task… he might be able to ignore most of the tabloid media but he can’t ignore Vaiety!

  11. Atomic Fury says:

    Only in Hollyweird. I don’t condone the abuses but the members and the COS deserve one another.

  12. Chuck W says:

    I agree with the article and have read the book but at the same time it makes me think what religion exists that hasn’t been run as a business? They all seem equally false to me whether its the miracles of christianity or Scientologies Xenu. Its just basic mind control and use of lies and myths to manipulate people into a lifetime of giving money and supporting an elite few to pursue their targets of power.

    • MarcabianCommander says:

      The difference is Christianity does not lock people up against their will, have set prices (getting more and more expensive) for services, badger people for hours and hours for donations,harass and try to destroy those who have left the faith, make people cut their friends and family out of their lives. BIG BIG BIG differences

  13. William Cameron says:

    Can’t someone CGI a video that shows Xenu has been found dead due to the Intl. Space Station or North Korean missiles gone awry? No Xenu, no Thetans, no more.

  14. It’s been long overdue for the “elite” of Scientology have been called out for their abuses of human rights.

  15. TheHoleDoesNotExist says:

    As a survivor of those RPF Reeducation camps, I hope that every taxpayer in America sees this documentary and writes in to their own Senator with a copy to Senator Wyden. This is U.S. IRS sanctioned modern slavery, child labor, child abuse, human rights abuse and it needs to end Now.

    Tom Cruise and John Travolta have only one comment they need to make now. Just one:
    I No Longer Support Scientology”. Thank you, Mr. Gibney, Mr. Wright, Sundance, HBO for giving our voices wings. Many of us have suffered irreparable damages for the crime (in scientology’s eyes) of speaking out against human rights violations.

  16. Harley Leiber says:

    I used to get annoyed when Tom and John came under attack for the religious beliefs, as I would when anyone’s religion is criticized . But that ended years ago. I came to realize Scientology is more like a fanatical terrorist cult that appeals to a broad swath of uneducated vessels ..John and Tom being two of the more rich and famous among them. Who knows what voids are filled for them by Scientology? Scientology is what? 40 years old? L. Ron Hubbard had to add the L. because there was already another Ron Hubbard in the phone book. Tom and John are actors. They read lines in front of banks of cameras with makeup and hair pieces on. Thank god they don’t make social policy. What a mess that would be. If there are human rights violations going on they should be investigated. If Tom threatens us with unleashing a chimera attack we can deal with it. The most recent threat has been a string of lousy films..about nothing…amounting to nothing. John sticks pretty much to his live in airport in Florida where he parks his planes and lives his cloistered life with the wife and kid. . Maybe he thinks of it as Scientology’;s airforce. Vinnie Barbarino goes all hoo rah. Not. Tom can’t keep a wife…gee I wonder why Katies left him? He’s a believer in total nonsense is why….

  17. Drake L.A. says:

    i get annoyed with people attacking Scientology. It sort of implies that other organized religions are any more credible. They’re all power-and-money-driven pyramid schemes based on absurd mythologies designed to exploit the lonely. The only ones to benefit from an attack doc like this are people like Jimmy Swaggart and Joel Osteen and The Pope who can increase their market shares. The real question is: What causes some people feel so empty that they’re willing to hand over their entire lives to a group that promises to care for them?

    • Sally Atwater says:

      Agree with you Drake. Totally agree. Did you know that you have to take a test to be accepted into the church of Scientology? They look for those exact types. Those that are lost and in need of guidance. If you are completely well rounded and well adjusted they tell you it’s not for you. Except the thing is Scientology really isn’t a religion. Ron Hubbard created the story. It didn’t exist before him. There are no ancient teachings and no other witnesses. It’s a cult. Cults don’t let you leave. Cults ensure you are disconnected from family that can sway your decision making. I do think other religions are more credible. Alot more credible. In the sense that they don’t employ harrassment tactics to keep their parishioners, they don’t enact websites to defame. Have you watched the Squirell busters show up at the doors of former members. It’s really one of the most disturbing things. They are yelling profanity and basically belittling the person to the lowest point. Oh sure under the guise they are there to make the world a better place. Everyone is down on Joel Olsteen but have you ever watched him? He’s fantastic. His sermons are uplifting, positive and generate change for the good. It makes the world a better place. They leave there inspired. And he makes money. So What. But Scientology is nothing like other religions and thank GOD for that!

    • KT Chong says:

      What other religions in America have forced labor, a “prison camp” and a torture facility?

    • jakethegreat1 says:

      Drake LA, did you see or read the part about the leaders (specifically THE LEADER) making adherents (in their special ‘hole’) being made to lick the bathroom floor and or the toilets? Are you aware of Scientology being convicted of framing Paulette Cooper for sending bomb threats. to have her put in prison for life, because she wrote a critical book about scientology?

      Yes, religions in general take advantage of naive or gullible or intellectually challenged individuals, but none of them compare to Scientology.

      Do some homework.

  18. Pair A. Fraze says:

    No documentary has inspired more controversy at this year’s Sundance Film Festival than “Going Clear to Hell and the Prisoner of Belief.”

    It’s a devastating portrait of a religion guided by greed, instead of motivated by altruism. The film alleges that Catholicism abuses its rank and file, hitting them up constantly for money, while, in some cases, subjecting them to physical and psychological degradation.

    It also points the finger of blame squarely at one of Catholicism most famous practitioners, Mel Gibson and shames him for turning a blind eye to the alleged mistreatments.

    Why has Mel Gibson become the symbol of this religion and how important is he to the church?

    Alex Gibney: He’s vital to the church, because he is the most famous Catholic.

    He is their key guy and he is a magnet for people. Very often you’ll ask people what’s Catholicism and they’ll say, ‘isn’t that the religion with Mel Gibson’? So he’s their poster boy.

  19. gendzaster says:

    L Ron Hubbard made the religion on a bet with his best friend how in the world could anyone take it seriously knowing that.

    • GKN says:

      Yes, and all Christian sects practiced pretty much the same thing – all prying, spying heretic-hunters. Puritans hanging Quakers in America, for ex, or the Thirty Years War where a half dozen Protestant sects and Catholics all slaughtered each other for, well, thirty years – from Spain to Sweden. It amuses me to see people always railing about the ‘Catholics’, as if they were the only ones. There were no Catholics vs Protestants for the first 1520 years (till Luther). Just Christians, my dears.

  20. Jeff says:

    I think it’s highly unlikely the anyone at the top like Tom Cruise or John Travolta are aware of the worst abuses happening within Scientology. Are the CEO’s or largest stock holders of a company aware of the abuses that happen among the rank and file? Probably not. The problem is is that abuse the tone set by the current leader and are the slave like labor reports true, and is it indeed taking advantage of a religious tax exempt status that it never should have had? If all of the reports of abuse are true I don’t understand why the FBI has not uncovered them. If you’ve read the book you know Scientology has been investigated many many times by the FBI over the decades. But, if an organization consistently gets complaints of abuse something is wrong for sure. It’s just a matter of being able to get to the bottom of things.

    • whitepointer says:

      Cruise and Travolta are treated like gods so they wouldnt see what the underlings are subjected to. Miscavige and co are up their butts so to speak. Hubbard started scientology as a bet which has been mentioned already. To see how Hitler brainwashed the hoards into believing his idealologies. He made up this ridiculous religion whereby they think they can cure people with physcriatric conditions including shiczophrenia. Nice if they could. They could have cured my mother. The thing is Hubbard died being mentally unstable and a recluse. Its is just a money making racket and a typical cult.

    • TheHoleDoesNotExist says:

      Anyone in scientology this many decades, including their celebs, has witnessed 90% of their friends and associates disappear overnight. John and Tom see children as young as 12 to 16 waiting on the wealthy scientology customers at Flag in Clearwater, FL and at Celebrity Center in Los Angeles. They would also have to obey orders to disconnect immediately and completely from anyone the leader of Scientology says is an SP, a Suppressive Person, including people they have known for decades. There are a hundred other smaller ways than every member has seen within the scientology bubble – they all know something is horribly wrong.

      Each one, including Tom and John, has had to make a willful and aware decision every single day to Not look or listen. Of course they know.

    • jhs39 says:

      Scientology is a very secretive organization that demands complete obedience–it’s hard to assemble a criminal case if you can’t get anyone to cooperate in the investigation. The slave worker thing sounds bad but it’s not illegal to donate your time to your religion. The United Unification Church works in a similar way–members are provided clothes and shelter and work for church owned business, with all salary going back into the church. Reverend Moon became one of the richest people in the world as a result of his creation of the Unification Church. The US government should be ashamed that those two charlatans (Hubbard and Moon) were given tax exempt status for their sham religions.

  21. Michael A. Levine says:

    I’m no Scientology defender. But doesn’t anyone see a parallel between Scientology torture and the Catholic Church’s decades-long look the other way policy on child rape by priests? Situations where someone has coercive control will almost always lead to abuse, and not just in religions. All power corrupts…

    • jhs39 says:

      There was also a sex abuse of minors scandal with the Jehovah’s Witnesses but because of the way the church is set up anyone who made accusations could be declared apostate, which means no one in the church is allowed to listen to anything they have to say. Most Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t even know that there was child abuse by high ranking members of the church because they aren’t supposed to get any information about the church from anyone outside of it. 15 or 20 years ago one of the high ranking members who was also a historian discovered that the founders had calculated the fall of the second temple of Jerusalem wrong. When he published his findings he was declared apostate. I worked with a Jehovah’s Witness and for fun sometimes I would talk about this man and my co-worker would cover her ears and go la-la-la-la until I stopped because she was not allowed to hear anything that he said.

      • WilliamB says:

        Sex abuse of minors is transversal to all religions and should not be used in the way you are probably trying to, thus a pedophile as no religion, he is a shape-shifter who can cloak with the purpose of achieving his own selfish goals.
        The topic here however, has to do with Scientology own principles, and how it presumably tries to spy and blackmail its own followers, true or not, it should be investigated by the authorities imho. Isn’t that why we pay heavy taxes anyway?

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