It’s rare to see a former Scientologist speak out against the Church of Scientology, let alone produce a documentary series that threatens to expose its secrets.
Yet that’s what happened Tuesday night on the premiere of A&E’s “Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath.” Remini, the actress best known for hit CBS sitcom “King of Queens,” has been an outspoken critic of Scientology since 2013, when she split with the church after 35 years as a devout member. As an executive producer of this eight-episode series, Remini plans to “delve deep into shocking stories of abuse, heartbreak and harassment experienced by those who have left the church and spoken publicly about their experiences.” The premiere features an ex-Scientology official who says the church tore her family apart.
In a long letter, the Church of Scientology said the series is “doomed to be a cheap reality TV show by a has-been actress now a decade removed from the peak of her career.” It also says that Remini is an “obnoxious, spiteful ex-Scientologist” who is bitter that she was expelled from the church. Between nearly every act break, A&E airs a disclaimer that the church disputes many of the statements made in the program:
Even though high-ranking Scientology officials say that the church — a multibillion-dollar organization — will go as far as possible to silence its critics and enemies, Remini says she is not intimidated.
“I want to give a voice to these stories, enough that people will be incensed by it to put some pressure on this organization to stop abusing people,” Remini says, adding that she hopes viewers think “someone needs to do something about this cult” and demand answers. “And so I’m hoping that by doing the show, we effect some kind of change.”
In the premiere, Remini says she got deeply involved in Scientology when she was a teenager. She credited Scientology for giving her the confidence to make it in Hollywood, and she was eager to spread the word about her church, one that preached self-knowledge and spiritual fulfillment. As she became a celebrity, Remini became a prominent “opinion leader” in the church, donating millions of dollars.
But, Remini explains, things changed when she attended the glitzy wedding of Tom Cruise (a Scientology superstar) and Katie Holmes in 2006 and noticed that leader David Miscavige’s wife, Shelly, was not in attendance. When she started asking questions, the top Scientology clergy members were very upset.
That is when Remini says she started looking up Scientology stories online and was increasingly horrified by allegations of physical and sexual abuse within the church. At first, she had a hard time imagining that she could leave. “Nobody in my family wanted to leave. Nobody wanted it to be true,” Remini says. “I didn’t want to find that what I had done my whole life was a lie.” Then, she says that, as she asked more questions, she and her family were called in for interrogations and that she was accused of committing crimes. Eventually, she publicly split with the church in 2013 and filed a missing-person report for Shelly Miscavige, who reportedly has not made a public appearance in six years.
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