On the Record gives additional details on several of the recent women who have publicly accused hip-hop entrepreneur Russell Simmons of sexual assault. Oprah Winfrey, the film’s producer, removed her support from the production before it ever aired at Sundance, citing “inconsistencies” in the account of the film’s key victim.
On the Record is a documentary film made by Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering that will be released in 2020. Russell Simmons, the hip-hop entrepreneur, has been accused of sexual assault and harassment.
The film follows in the footsteps of the Dick and Ziering exposés The Invisible War, which exposed the military’s sexual assault pandemic, and Oscar-nominated The Hunting Ground, which did the same for college campuses throughout the country. The documentary seems more like a fireside talk than a harsh exposé aimed to overwhelm, thanks to its use of direct-to-camera close-ups and gold-toned lighting.
We identify the backdrops as familiar indoor locations with each subject interview, but they are entirely out of focus, forcing the audience to gaze straight at these ladies, to perceive them as human beings; cinematic tactics are being employed to save them from being re-victimized onscreen.
What’s There in “On The Records”?
On the Record joins Untouchable and the Surviving R. Kelly series as the fourth documentary to focus on claims of sexual assault against powerful men since the start of the #MeToo movement. It’s Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering’s third film on sexual assault, following The Invisible War and The Hunting Ground.
In 2016, Ziering was a member of the Sundance Film Festival jury. Ziering was seated next to Rose McGowan at a Women at Sundance dinner, when McGowan revealed to Ziering that she had been sexually abused by Harvey Weinstein. Ziering asked McGowan if there were any other ladies who wanted to speak. Later, Ziering and Dick travelled to Los Angeles to meet with Ashley Judd and an unknown actress and begin pitching the project, which was turned down.
When the #MeToo movement erupted, Ziering and Dick put the project on hold, but when the #MeToo movement erupted, they received calls from women willing to come forward, which is how they found Drew Dixon, the daughter of former Washington, D.C. mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly and former Chair of the DC Council, Arrington Dixon. Dixon was the first woman to publicly accuse Russell Simmons of sexual assault, which were documented in a December 2017 New York Times piece.
What Was Special About it?
Oprah Winfrey joined the project as an executive producer in June 2019, under her Harpo Productions banner, with Apple TV+ getting distribution rights as part of her overall contract with Apple. Ziering and Dick collaborated closely with Winfrey, delivering her rough clips that she enthusiastically approved.
Following the announcement of the film, Winfrey got phone calls and text messages from Simmons and his fans, including 50 Cent, requesting that she stop the project. Furthermore, the ladies engaged in the video were harassed on social media, which they saw as threats and intimidation.
Winfrey announced her departure as an executive producer on the project in January 2020, which resulted in the film’s distribution arrangement with Apple TV+ being cancelled. She said that the film was hurried to be screened at the Sundance Film Festival, and that when Ava DuVernay gave it a bad review during a private screening, Winfrey believed the documentary lacked necessary “context” and that some of the women’s experiences were “inconsistent.”
Winfrey only told Ziering and Dick 20 minutes before making her resignation public. They said they were taken aback because Winfrey had seen a cut comparable to the one that would screen at Sundance, and Apple and Harpo had filled out a festival application.
The video focusses on sexual assault and harassment charges levelled against Def Jam co-founder Russell Simmons, and includes interviews with some of the more than 20 women who have come forward to accuse him, including Sil Lai Abrams, Sherri Hines, Jenny Lumet, and Alexia Norton Jones.
The documentary focuses the most of its attention on Drew Dixon, a former Def Jam Records A&R executive who alleges Simmons raped her in his apartment. Dixon alleges that music boss L.A. Reid ruined her career after she refused his sexual approaches after she left the firm to work for Arista Records. The marginalisation of black women’s voices from the #MeToo movement is also highlighted in On the Record. Throughout the film, Kimberle Williams Crenshaw, Kierna Mayo, and Tarana Burke provide commentary.