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Record producer Drew Dixon, the subject of HBO Max's documentary "On the Record," on the sexual assault allegations against hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons, said the film centers Black women's…
Record producer Drew Dixon, the subject of HBO Max’s documentary “On the Record,” on the sexual assault allegations against hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons, said the film centers Black women’s narratives and the misogynoir they face, if only for its 95-minute run time.
Dixon and filmmakers Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering, who are behind documentaries “The Hunting Ground” and “Invisible War,” about sexual assault on college campuses and in the military, respectively, discussed the collaborative approach of making the film and the backlash it received from various industry figures, including Simmons, for its content. The conversation was moderated by Variety artisans editor Jazz Tangcay.
“We never intended to keep going back into this space, but it was literally the fact that people watching our films and then survivors seeing them and then reaching out to us after in response and imploring us to make a film about their issue that we kept getting drawn back in,” Ziering said. “And what’s interesting and the reason we were so not only compelled and enthralled when we met Drew and heard her story but felt OK, this is important.”
What made “On the Record” different from Dick and Ziering’s past docs, however, was the way it centered a Black woman’s experience and went beyond the theme of believing survivors. “We knew that finally with ‘Me too,’ with Drew and her story, we could go deeper into the issue and we could look at wait, ‘believe survivors’ — what about if you’re a person of color?”
Initially, Dixon said she felt apprehensive in entrusting two white filmmakers with her story and did not want the doc to be told through the lens of the white gaze. It took her more than a year and a half of meeting on and off-again with the directors to sign a release.
“I was very uncomfortable and uncertain about surrendering my story to white filmmakers, to the white gaze but part of what reassured me was sort of all of the back and forth that I had with them agonizing over my decision to come forward as a Black woman, it didn’t scare them off,” Dixon said.
To ensure the story was told properly, Dick said it was important for the doc to showcase Dixon’s struggle with deciding if she wanted to come forward with her account. Additionally, Ziering said the two worked with Kimberlé Crenshaw, Jen Morgan, Shanita Hubbard, Kierna Mayo and Tarana Burke, who are all featured in the film, to ensure the authenticity of the story.
Speaking on the backlash toward the film, from Simmons who criticized it on “The Breakfast Club” and 50 Cent who smeared it on social media, Dixon reflected on how the doc struggled to “get oxygen” after losing executive producer Oprah Winfrey and a distributor.
“The film is literally about the double bind that Black women face,” Dixon said. “The backlash that we fear from our own community, which prevents us from speaking out. [Winfrey] was experiencing that and I was devastated for her. And then for her then after having endured this public backlash from within the community, for her to exit, it was like the floor fell out from under us.”
However, Dixon said the film, which was later picked up by HBO Max, was able to regain steam due to the endurance of Kirby and Ziering, who she said showcased what it means to be an ally standing in solidarity with Black women who are fighting systemic issues of both racism and rape culture.
“Between coming out in the middle of a pandemic, two days after the murder of George Floyd, this film keeps fighting and fighting and fighting to be seen and heard and to me, it’s sort of an echo of the struggle that Black women face in this country,” Dixon said. “We’ve been brutalized and ignored for 400 years. This is a 95-minute film that begins to talk about that story and it’s still fighting for a chance.”