‘Escaping the NXIVM Cult’: Catherine Oxenberg Says Lifetime Movie Isn’t Her Daughter’s Story

Lifetime’s latest ripped-from-the-headlines movie is based on a chilling true story of a young woman who found herself enmeshed in a disturbing sex cult, and her mother’s fight to free her child from the group’s grip. But actress Catherine Oxenberg — who wrote the book on which the movie is based — wants people to know that she’s only telling her story. Her daughter India, who spent years as a member of NXIVM, has her own tale to tell of her experiences with the notorious group. 

How Catherine Oxenberg’s daughter got caught up in a cult 

Casper Van Dien with Catherine Oxenberg and India Oxenberg
Casper Van Dien with Catherine Oxenberg and India Oxenberg in 2007 | M. Tran/FilmMagic

Catherine Oxenberg hasn’t exactly had a conventional life. She is a daughter of royalty (her mother is Princess Elizabeth of Yugoslavia) who rose to fame playing Amanda Carrington on the 1980s primetime soap Dynasty. In 1991, she gave birth to her first child, a daughter named India, whose father is a convicted drug smuggler named William Weitz Shafer. 

In 2011, Oxenberg invited her 19-year-old daughter along with her to a seminar for Executive Success Programs, or ESP. At the time, the actress thought ESP was nothing more than a self-help program that taught people leadership skills. She couldn’t have been more wrong. 

What Oxenberg didn’t realize was that ESP was an arm of NXIVM, a mysterious organization run by a man named Keith Raniere. And within NXIVM was another group called DOS or The Vow. Women who joined this secret sorority were referred to as “masters” or “slaves,” branded with Raniere’s initials, coerced into sex with Raniere, and kept on strict, very-low-calorie diets, investigations later revealed. Earlier this summer, Raniere was found guilty of sex trafficking and is now facing life in prison for his crimes. 

Catherine Oxenberg was turned off by ESP and NXIVM, but her daughter loved it. She gradually became more involved in the group, to her mother’s alarm. As she began to learn the truth about NXIVM and its practices, she made it her mission to get her daughter out. 

Oxenberg wrote a book about her experience 

Catherine Oxenberg and Megyn Kelly
Catherine Oxenberg and Megyn Kelly | Nathan Congleton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

In 2018, Oxenberg published a book about her experience with NXIVM and her efforts to save her daughter (who did eventually leave the group). Captive: A Mother’s Crusade to Save Her Daughter from a Terrifying Cult has been adapted in Lifetime’s Escaping the NXIVM Cult

Oxenberg’s book tells the story from her perspective. But the movie also explores India’s experience. That required filmmakers to explore the inner workings of the cult in order to portray things correctly. 

At one point, a different production company even suggested that Oxenberg could play herself in the film adaptation. But she nixed that idea. “Going through this once was plenty.,” she told Variety. In the Lifetime movie, she’ll be played by Andrea Roth. 

Oxenberg says India has ‘yet to tell her story’

Oxenberg also told Variety that Captive is her story, not her daughter’s. 

“I’m very careful to say that this is not her story. She has yet to tell her story,” she said. “In my book I’m very careful not to trespass on her story at all, and so probably the hardest part for me was reading the parts of the script that tell her side of the story — because I’m very, very sensitive to my daughter having ownership over her perspective. But in order to tell this story in a visual medium, she had to be portrayed.”

The 57-year-old actress added that India will eventually share more about her time with NXIVM. “[S]he did not participate in the telling of this story, and she will be telling the most accurate story from her perspective when the time is right,” Oxenberg said. 

Escaping the NXIVM Cult: A Mother’s Fight to Save Her Daughter airs Saturday, September 21 at 8/7c on Lifetime. 

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