HBO to air Scientology documentary based on book ‘Going Clear’

A Scientology building on Fountain Avenue in Los Angeles.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

HBO is planning to air a documentary based on Lawrence Wright’s “Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, & The Prison of Belief,” according to The Hollywood Reporter. The film, directed by Alex Gibney (“Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room”), could air on the network next year.

Wright’s book, which is critical of the Church of Scientology, has been controversial since its release in 2013. Shortlisted for the National Book Award, National Book Critics Circle Award and L.A. Times Book Prize, the book was dropped by its British publisher, Transworld, possibly out of fear of a potential lawsuit by the church. The Hollywood Reporter quotes HBO Documentary Films president Sheila Nevins as saying, “We have probably 160 lawyers [looking at the film].”

Nevins and HBO have dealt with angry Scientologists before, the Hollywood Reporter notes. Members of the church, known for opposing psychiatry, protested the network after it aired a documentary called “Dead Blue: Surviving Depression,” which “present[ed] antidepressant drugs in a positive light.”

“Going Clear” grew out of Wright’s New Yorker profile of film director Paul Haggis (“Crash”), a longtime Scientologist who left the church in 2009. The church, founded by science fiction author L. Ron Hubbard, claims many Hollywood celebrities as members, including actors John Travolta and Tom Cruise. The church’s reaction to Wright’s book was hostile; it has a long rebuttal to claims Wright made in his book at a website called How Lawrence Wright Got It So Wrong. 


Reviewing the book for the Los Angeles Times, author Evan Wright wrote, “Who’d have thought a history of a religion would offer so many guilty pleasures? Lawrence Wright’s enthralling account of Scientology’s rise... brims with celebrity scandal.”

In a 2013 interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper, Wright discussed the connection between the church and Hollywood, saying, “The Church of Scientology was created in Los Angeles, the Celebrity Centre in Hollywood, all of it with the design to take over the entertainment industry.” The church’s headquarters is in Riverside County, although it maintains many buildings in Los Angeles.

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