Just days before the Sundance Film Festival premiere of Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering’s “On the Record,” Oprah Winfrey pulled her name from the documentary about the sexual assault allegations leveled against hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons, taking the film’s Apple TV+ distribution with it. While the development was a particularly harsh blow given the fact that the film offered a public forum for the women who felt forced into silence for decades, one accuser, Drew Dixon, said Winfrey’s departure hasn’t changed the filmmakers’ commitment to providing a platform for her and others, and that media attention has endured.
“To feel like we were right there and then to have this hairpin turn, it was absolutely gutting, I cannot lie, really,” Dixon said during an interview at the IndieWire Studio, presented by Dropbox. “We’re still here, and (Dick and Ziering are) still there, and you guys are still here. That’s what independent journalism and filmmaking is all about — pushing through that status quo to tell stories that maybe people don’t want to hear.”
Dixon was joined by the filmmakers and two other women prominently featured in the film, Sil Lai Abrams and Sherri Hynes. The directors deferred to the women, all of whom have accused Simmons of sexually assaulting them decades ago, providing them with an opportunity to expand on the stories they shared in the film.
“We’re glad we have such amazing allies, storytellers, who essentially have given us the mic, as you’ve seen, and let us really speak for ourselves,” said Dixon, who said she was raped by Simmons while working with him at Def Jam Recordings.
Hynes, the founder of the first-ever female hip-hop group Mercedes Ladies, said she hopes she helps other women by sharing her story. She said the story she kept private for so long is taking on a life of its own. “I’m not fighting it,” she said. “It was a little overwhelming.”
Abrams said she had to fight in order for her story to be told after a piece on NBC News was derailed.
“It wasn’t until I met Drew and Jenny (Lumet, another accuser) and had an opportunity to participate in this film that I thought ‘Maybe someone will hear me, maybe all of this backtalk that’s occurring, someone will actually hear and recognize the fact that this man is a serial predator and that there’s impact, there’s real impact to survivors lives,'” she said. “I’m grateful for the opportunity but there’s so much more work to be done. This is a privilege but there’s so many people whose stories will never be told either because they themselves are too afraid” or because they are unable to navigate a channel to tell their story.
Dixon said breaking her silence was about so much more than sharing what Simmons did.
“I don’t need to think all the time,” she said. “I don’t have to be 10 steps ahead of accidentally exposing my rapist. He raped me, and that’s a fact. I can breathe and live my life.”