The shocking true story behind Netflix doc ‘Dancing For The Devil: The 7M TikTok Cult’

Netflix’s new three-part documentary series, Dancing for the Devil: The 7M TikTok Cult, hit the streaming service earlier this week and has already shocked viewers with its allegation of a “cult-like” atmosphere inside 7M Films, a management company that works with TikTok dancers.

The riveting series follows the duo known as the Wilking Sisters, a pair of dancing siblings who ran a popular TikTok channel. Miranda and Melanie Wilking were close, and their runaway success online brought them not just millions of followers but also a series of lucrative brand partnerships.

That was before April 2019, when Miranda received a message from a fellow dancer named James “BDash” Derrick. The pair collaborated on a dance video, and then started a romantic relationship. James’s videographer, Isaiah Shinn, introduced the couple to a religious group, known as the Shekinah Church, which had been founded decades earlier by Isaiah’s father, Robert Shinn.

Melanie Wilking, a dancer who used to create TikTok videos with her sister Miranda and now fears she is under the control of a cult (Netflix)
Melanie Wilking, a dancer who used to create TikTok videos with her sister Miranda and now fears she is under the control of a cult (Netflix)

During the early part of the 2020 pandemic the couple spent time with the Wilking family in Michigan, but when Miranda returned to LA her sister started to notice that she was becoming withdrawn and distant. In January 2021, Miranda decided not to attend her grandfather’s funeral after saying she needed permission from “someone closer to God” to fly home. Later that year she and James got engaged, and they married without any of her family present. She now goes by Miranda Derrick.

By 2022, Miranda’s close-knit family were beginning to worry that the Shekinah Church was operating more like a cult. In Februrary 2022 Melanie and her parents Kelly and Dean made those fears public for the first time, in a 40-minute plea on Instagram Live in which they said they were hoping to make contact with Miranda.

After her family’s appeal went viral, Miranda Derrick pushed back in a statement to The Cut, saying: “I am not held against my will and I’ve never been a hostage. I go to church and I have faith in God. If one day I wish to pursue my faith elsewhere, I will and feel completely free to do that. As far as my career, my time at 7M Films has been one of the most exciting years ever and if one day I wish to partner with a different management company or start my own company, I will. No one is forcing me to do anything.”

Melanie Lee and Robert Shinn in a still from Netflix’s ‘Dancing for the Devil: The 7M TikTok Cult' (Netflix)
Melanie Lee and Robert Shinn in a still from Netflix’s ‘Dancing for the Devil: The 7M TikTok Cult' (Netflix)

In Dancing for the Devil, documentary maker Derek Doneen digs into the Wilkings’ stories and traces the history of the Shekinah Church and its ties to 7M Films. Founded by Robert Shinn in the 1990s, from its earliest incarnation the church was encouraging members to break contact with family members and to hand much of their money over to them.

Derek told Netflix’s Tudum that Robert’s “brand of manipulation and control is typical of many other cult leaders”. He found earlier stories that parallelled what happened to the Wilkings family, including the Lee sisters who joined the church in 2001. “Melanie and Priscylla [Lee] represent the earlier generation,” said Doneen. “They were in Shekinah for decades, and we see the pain they experienced trying to come back together and rebuild their relationship.”

According to several former 7M dancers, Robert reworked his church to specifically engage with TikTok-famous dancers, taking advantage of their vulnerability as aspiring artists who had moved to LA to chase their dreams. They said they ended up giving Robert the majority of their income via tithes and fees, were made to attend lengthy, late-night Bible study sessions and were encouraged to cut off contact with their friends and family. They were also expected to sign NDAs.

In recent years, Robert has gone on the offensive. In 2022, he filed a lawsuit claiming defamation and trade libel against several former church members, including the Lee sisters, alleging that they had made “false statements” about his organization being a cult. The following year, a group of former 7M dancers joined a cross-complaint with former church members against Robert, accusing him and his associates of fraud, forced labor and human trafficking. The case is expected to go to trial in July next year, and no criminal charges have been filed.

The Independent has approached 7M for comment.

Today Miranda is back in contact with her family once again, although they say she has requested they do not ask her about 7M or the Shekinah church. They do dance, however. In April, Miranda posted a video to Instagram showing the Wilking sisters reunited and dancing with their mother.

The trio look happy, but relations reportedly remain strained. In the days leading up to the release of Dancing for the Devil, Miranda posted two photographs of herself in a black ballgown with the caption: “Had such a great time at my sister’s wedding”. Nobody else is present in the pictures.

Dancing for the Devil: The 7M TikTokCult is available to stream on Netflix now