Siblings and Juilliard-trained pianists, The 5 Browns were on top of the world after three #1 records and appearances on 60 Minutes, The Oprah Winfrey Show, and more. But beneath the surface of their success loomed a terrible secret: their father, who managed their careers, was responsible for years of sexual abuse against the three sisters. Long before #MeToo, and well aware that their story would devastate their family and possibly the group, the young women bravely spoke out. THE 5 BROWNS follows the siblings’ search for healing through the transformative power of music.
Told intimately using archival family video, interviews, rehearsals, performances and verité footage, Niles weaves together the remarkable story of musical determination and passion mirrored by profound bravery and survival—both personally and professionally—as The 5 Browns come to terms with their broken family and work to find solace and healing in their own individual ways.
The 5 Browns (Desirae, Deondra, Gregory, Melody and Ryan) burst on the scene after a New York Times profile in 2000. All five were studying piano at the esteemed Juilliard School (a first in the schools long history) which led to immediate stardom and appearances on several shows including 60 Minutes, Jay Leno and Oprah. The following year they were signed to Sony Records followed by performances in major concert halls around the world. But as Melody describes it, “a lot was lurking there.”
In 2007, after a performance in Washington, DC, the two oldest girls, Desirae (then 27) and Deondra (26), spent a long night discussing their father, who was also their manager. “I had been piecing things together,” said Desirae. “And finally I just asked her, straight up, into the darkness and got the dreaded response.”
“We sisters had spent the past 20 plus years living in the same room together and never told anyone that we had been sexually abused by my father when we were younger,” explains Deondra.
The next morning they went directly to their younger sister Melody, and confirmed that she too, had also been abused. This began a long and continuing battle to come to terms with what had happened in what appeared to be such an idyllic family setting. And not just for the girls.
“I had looked up to my dad so the moment I heard the news, my whole world just crashed,” says Ryan, the youngest of the five.
“When I finally found out what had happened,” explained Gregory, “it was almost like everything I had known to be real, suddenly went up in flames and a civil war started in my mind that lasted for years and maybe will never end.”
“We were very lucky to have been given the opportunity to prosecute my father,” says Deondra. “Thankfully, the statute of limitations in the state of Utah allowed it, but we soon realized that most victims don’t have this opportunity!” This realization became the impetus for Deondra and Desirae to start a foundation—Survivors of Abuse—and craft legislation with Senator Harry Reid (NV) to end the statute of limitations in all 50 states. Their journey is a major theme addressed in the film as Niles follows the two sisters as they navigate the political system, advocating for their bill and passionately fight “to give other survivors a voice,” exclaims Desirae. “The right thing to do is to stand up, to protect other people, to protect my sisters, to find justice. There’s still such a big fight moving forward to protect everyone I can, every child I can, and to put away every perpetrator I can. And that’s the world I face moving forward.”