Hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons launched an “intense campaign” to pressure Oprah Winfrey to withdraw her support from a forthcoming film about women accusing him of misconduct, including rape, a new report says.
Following the shocking last-minute decision to remove the film, titled “On The Record” from noted sexual assault documentarians Amy Ziering and Kirby Dick, from her Apple TV Plus slate, Winfrey admitted to the New York Times on Friday that Simmons tried to strong-arm her into backing down.
“He did reach out multiple times and attempted to pressure me,” Winfrey told the Times, insisting that she withdrew her support from the film of her own volition, without input from Simmons. In the same piece, Simmons’ accusers, including music executive Drew Dixon, were horrified by the message Winfrey sent by backing out, despite her insistence that she believed the women.
“I feel like I’m experiencing a second crime,” said Dixon, who accused Simmons of raping her in 1995. “I am being silenced. The broader community is being intimidated. The most powerful black woman in the world is being intimidated.”
A spokesperson for Simmons and Apple TV Plus had no immediate comment on the matter.
In separate two interviews, including a previously published chat with the Los Angeles Times, Kirby and Ziering said they were blindsided by Winfrey’s decision. The daytime TV icon says the process was long and thoughtful, which included showing a cut of the project to friend and filmmaker Ava DuVernay.
DuVernay said backlash for Winfrey was inevitable, either way.
“She’s got Simmons on one side pressuring her, and then she’s got a film on the other side that she doesn’t agree with. So if she walks away from the film she seems like she’s caving to Simmons, and if she stays with the film then she’s putting her name on something that she feels doesn’t quite hit the mark,” DuVernay said.
The documentary will head to Sundance as planned, to play in the official selection, but now seeks a distributor. UTA Independent Film Group will present the film to buyers, Variety has learned. It will premiere Saturday, Jan. 25 at Park City’s MARC Theater.