Since Oprah Winfrey announced on Jan. 10 that she was pulling support from a documentary project featuring women who are accusing rap mogul Russell Simmons of rape, filmmakers for the project are still grappling with why and say Winfrey’s decision left them blindsided.
Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering are set to present the film, titled On the Record, at the Sundance Film Festival on Jan. 25 although Winfrey’s decision has UTA, the sales agency for the project, rushing to find a new distributor. Also, AppleTV+ has scrapped plans to air a subsequent docuseries project called Toxic Workplace, prompted by Dick and Ziering’s documentary, that would have looked into sexual misconduct inside the workplace.
“It was very disappointing and upsetting,” Ziering told The Hollywood Reporter. “We were concerned about the survivors and what the hell this is going to do to them. That was our first thought. ‘Oh my God. Let’s tell everybody and figure this out.’”
In Winfrey’s statement removing herself from executive producing the documentary, the media icon said she still supports and believes the alleged victims, but that the project had “more work to be done.”
“I have decided that I will no longer be executive producer on The Untitled Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering Documentary and it will not air on Apple TV+,” Winfrey said in a statement. “First and foremost, I want it to be known that I unequivocally believe and support the women. Their stories deserve to be told and heard. In my opinion, there is more work to be done on the film to illuminate the full scope of what the victims endured and it has become clear that the filmmakers and I are not aligned in that creative vision.”
The film largely focuses on Drew Dixon, who formerly worked as an executive under Simmons at Def Jam Recordings and alleges her boss raped her in 1995. Simmons has denied Dixon’s rape allegation as well as rape allegations made by several other women, including author Sil Lai Abrams, Sherri Hines of the rap group Mercedes Ladies and screenwriter Jenny Lumet.
The documentary also includes interviews with Tarana Burke, who founded the #MeToo movement, as well as others who discuss the challenges Black women face when coming forward to accuse powerful Black men of sexual abuse. Burke discussed “Black women’s need to protect Black men,” according to The Hollywood Reporter.
But it could have been the film’s over-reliance on Dixon’s alleged story that drove Winfrey away. Or, some speculate that social media posts from Simmons and his friend, 50 Cent, both challenging Winfrey’s involvement in the documentary, prompted her to leave, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
“I just want to know why she is only going after her own,” 50 tweeted on Dec. 10. “When it’s clear the penalties have been far more extreme for African American men.”
I just want to know why she is only going after her own. When it’s clear the penalties have been far more extreme for African American men. #lecheminduroi #bransoncognac #starzgettheapp #abcforlife pic.twitter.com/skH5a40Emj
— 50cent (@50cent) December 13, 2019
Simmons posted a note to Winfrey on Instagram. “Dearest OPRAH, you have been a shining light to my family and my community. Contributing so much to my life that I couldn’t list a fraction of it in this blog. I have given you the gift of meditation and the groundbreaking book ‘THE POWER OF NOW’ we bonded to say the least. This is why it’s so troubling that you choose me to single out in your recent documentary,” Simmons posted on Instagram along with the photo of himself with Winfrey.
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#Repost @unclerush when documentary was announced.. Dearest OPRAH,you have been a shining light to my family and my community. Contributing so much to my life that I couldn’t list a fraction of it in this blog.Ihave given you the gift of meditation and the groundbreaking book”THE POWER OF NOW “we bonded to say the least. This is why it’s so troubling that you choose me to single out in your recent documentry. I have already admitted to being a playboy more (appropriately titled today “womanizer”) sleeping with and putting myself in more compromising situations than almost any man I know. Not 8 or 14 thousand like warren Beatty or Wilt Chamberlain, but still an embarrassing number. So many that some could reinterpret or reimagine a different recollection of the same experiences. Your doc is focused on 3 hand chosen women. I have refused to get in the mud with any accusers, but let’s acknowledge what i have shared. I have taken and passed nine 3-hour lie detector tests (taken for my daughters), that these stories have been passed on by CNN, NBC, BUZZFEED, NY POST, NY MAG, AND OTHERS. Now that you have reviewed the facts and you SHOULD have learned what I know; that these stories are UNUSABLE and that “hurt people hurt people”. Today I received a call from an old girlfriend from the early 1980s which means that they are using my words/evidence against me and their COMMITMENT/ (all of the claims are 25 to 40 years old) It is impossible to prove what happened 40 years ago, but in my case PROOF EXISTS of what didn’t happen, mostly signed letters from their own parents, siblings, roommates, band members, interns, and in the case of 2 of your 3 accusers,their own words in their books. Shocking how many people have misused this important powerful revolution for relevance and money. … In closing, I am guilty of exploiting, supporting, and making the soundtrack for a grossly unequal society, i have even been unconsciously callous , but i have never been violent or forced myself on anyone. Still I am here to help support a necessary shift in power and consciousness. Let us get to work on uplifting humanity and put this moment and old narrative behind us Love you
The documentary is moving forward and will be shown at Sundance next weekend.