There are few people out there with enough name-recognition and power that you cannot mess with, one of those is Oprah Winfrey. Earlier this month, Oprah announced that she would be pulling out as an executive producer of the upcoming documentary “On The Record” about the sexual assault accusations against music executive Russell Simmons. She is now expanding on her decision by stating that Simmons repeatedly tried to pressure and frighten her into pulling out of the project.
The documentary “On The Record,” by Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering, focuses on Simmons’ ex-Def Jam employee Drew Dixon, and is set to be released on Apple TV+ after its world premiere at Sundance later this week. During an interview with The New York Times, Oprah revealed that Simmons attempted to pressure her through private calls and messages, as well as public videos and posts to get her to withdraw from the film. As The New York Times reports it, Simmons tried to discredit the accusers, and a family member of one of the accusers was even contacted directly. “I told him directly in a phone call that I will not be pressured either into, or out of, backing this film,” Oprah said. “I am only going to do what I believe to be the right thing.”
Last December, Winfrey also shared a cut of the film with director Ava DuVernay¸ who gave it a “harsh critique” according to the Times. But after further editing, including additional interviews and a “three-minute montage that introduced five more Simmons accusers with a technique that featured one woman’s line bleeding into the next woman’s story” a new cut was delivered on January 8. Two days later Winfrey sent the filmmakers a letter explaining her dissatisfaction, saying “I think it is a disservice to the women and this film to have their gut-wrenching disclosures reduced to a montage of sound bites and not give them the stature of elevating their stories.”
Drew Dixon also commented on the new cut of the film and the pressure by Russell to silence the film, saying to the Times: “I feel like I’m experiencing a second crime … I am being silenced. The broader community is being intimidated. The most powerful black woman in the world is being intimidated.”
“On the Record” is still set to premiere at Sundance on January 25.