‘Dancing for the Devil: The 7M TikTok Cult’ Director Explains Wild Netflix Doc and Nearly Interviewing Leader Robert Shinn

Variety/May 29, 2024

By Lexi Carson

Netflix‘s docuseries exposes a sexually abusive church pastor and a cult in perhaps the most unexpected place — TikTok.

“Dancing for the Devil: The 7M TikTok Cult” follows a group of TikTok dancers who believe they are in a talent management company called 7M. The doc focuses on Miranda Wilking, a member who’s estranged from her family that’s desperately trying to get her out.

The 7M leader is Robert Shinn, a self-proclaimed “man of God” who is a pastor at an invite-only church called Shekinah. However, he uses his power to prey upon his members and abuses them verbally, emotionally and psychically. Members who escaped 7M shared their stories of heartbreak and grief under the leader in the doc. One former member, Priscylla Lee, currently has a lawsuit against Shinn and other Shekinah members.

“[Milgram] was telling me about 7M and how it’s created a lot of buzz in the dance community, and that one of the families, the Wilkings, had gone live [on Instagram] doing a cry for help, and a call to action if there’s anyone else that was affected by it,” Acevedo told Variety. “Like everyone else, I watched the live and was like ‘What the heck is going on here?’ and then got on the phone with the Wilkings later that evening, and we ended up talking for quite a few hours.”

That conversation with the Wilkings prompted Acevedo to reach out to more people and establish relationships Shinn’s victims before she partnered with Netflix for the project. When Acevedo met with director Derek Doneen, they were “kindred spirits” sharing the same vision for the project and took it very seriously when victims were trusting them to tell their stories.

Shooting didn’t begin until the end of 2022 because they needed to build trust with the victims and gain access to information that was crucial for the story to unfold.

“The crew, most of the time was just me, Jessica and a town person. We were extremely nimble, and didn’t want to come in with a lot of people, or strangers that they’d never met before asking them to be vulnerable and do the things that we knew they’d be doing. It was the people that they spent a lot of hours and a lot of days with getting to know and getting to trust already,” Doneen says. “There’s really no substitute for time. It just takes a lot of time.”

Acevedo adds that most of the time it was only Doneen in the room with victims while they were filming and sharing their experiences with 7M.

“We’re always reminding subjects at the beginning of each shoot, and throughout the shoot that if at any point you feel uncomfortable, we can stop at any time. If you want us to leave, we will leave at any time. You are in the driver’s seat,” Doneen says. “And when the production ends, the relationship will continue and we’re continuing to check in.”

Doneen says he tried numerous times to get ahold of Shinn and the 7M dancers for comment, but no one mentioned in the docuseries responded — except for Shinn, for a total of 10 seconds.

“As we got deeper into production, we tried again. We called all of them on the phone, left voicemails for those who didn’t pick up, texted all of them, and then sent emails as well,” Doneen says. “We did our best to give them every opportunity to participate and tell their side of the story and would have entered into those conversations with as open of a mind, that I think that we would have with any subject. We talked to Robert for all of 10 seconds, and as soon as he knew who we were, he said, ‘I have another call, I gotta go’ and hung up and never responded again.”

Doneen says he had a good conversation with Shinn’s son Isaiah Shinn, who nearly spoke to them for the series but then backed out.

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