A timeline of Oprah Winfrey's involvement with the Russell Simmons documentary
View this post on Instagram
Dearest OPRAH,you have been a shining light to my family and my community. Contributing so much to my life that I couldn’t list a fraction of it in this blog.Ihave given you the gift of meditation and the groundbreaking book”THE POWER OF NOW “we bonded to say the least. This is why it’s so troubling that you choose me to single out in your recent documentry. I have already admitted to being a playboy more (appropriately titled today “womanizer”) sleeping with and putting myself in more compromising situations than almost any man I know. Not 8 or 14 thousand like Warren Beatty or Wilt Chamberlain, but still an embarrassing number. So many that some could reinterpret or reimagine a different recollection of the same experiences. Please note that ur producers said that this upcoming doc was to focus ONLY on 3 hand chosen women. I have refused to get in the mud with any accusers, but let’s acknowledge what i have shared. I have taken and passed nine 3-hour lie detector tests (taken for my daughters), that these stories have been passed on by CNN, NBC, BUZZFEED, NY POST, NY MAG, AND OTHERS. Now that you have reviewed the facts and you SHOULD have learned what I know; that these stories are UNUSABLE and that “hurt people hurt people”. Today I received a call from an old girlfriend from the early 1980s which means that they are using my words/evidence against me and their COMMITMENT/ (all of the claims are 25 to 40 years old) It is impossible to prove what happened 40 years ago, but in my case proof exists of what didn’t happen, mostly signed letters from their own parents, siblings, roommates, band members, interns, and in the case of 2 of your 3 accusers,their own words in their books. Shocking how many people have misused this important powerful revolution for relevance and money. … In closing, I am guilty of exploiting, supporting, and making the soundtrack for a grossly unequal society, but i have never been violent or forced myself on anyone. Still I am here to help support a necessary shift in power and consciousness. Let us get to work on uplifting humanity and put this moment and old narrative behind us
Shortly after the Sundance reveal, rapper 50 Cent targeted Winfrey on Instagram, accusing the TV host and super-producer of singling out black men, such as Simmons, in her #MeToo activism.
“I don’t understand why Oprah is going after black men,” the “Candy Shop” hitmaker wrote under a photo of Simmons and Winfrey smiling together. “No Harvey Weinstein, No Epstein, just Micheal jackson and Russell Simmons this … is sad.”
The next day, Simmons took to social media to air his grievances with the Harpo Productions head.
“Dearest OPRAH, you have been a shining light to my family and my community. Contributing so much to my life that I couldn’t list a fraction of it in this blog,” Simmons wrote, captioning a photo of himself and Winfrey having a book talk. “This is why it’s so troubling that you choose me to single out in your recent documentry.
“I have already admitted to being a playboy more (appropriately titled today ‘womanizer’) sleeping with and putting myself in more compromising situations than almost any man I know,” he continued. “So many that some could reinterpret or reimagine a different recollection of the same experiences.”
Winfrey did not respond to the social media criticisms.
Dick and Ziering get real notes
Though Simmons’ Instagram meltdown didn’t initially worry Dick and Ziering, the filmmaking duo later told The Times that they received their most critical notes yet from Winfrey’s production company just days after the music mogul posted his rant.
Up until that point, the directors explained, all interactions with Winfrey and Harpo had been positive and encouraging, leading to relatively insignificant requests, such as “We don’t like the way this scene transitions” or “Can we build out this scene because we want more of this character?”
The studio’s new concerns were different, suggesting that the film might not be ready for Sundance. Though surprised by the sudden pushback, the pair didn’t let it shake them.
“We felt like we could address them,” Dick said. “We didn’t really feel like the film needed them, because the film was already good, but as good partners, we wanted to honor the relationship and just keep moving forward.
“So what we had to do was cancel a lot of holiday plans, but we have a great staff and we pushed forward and we got it out.”
Winfrey and Apple exit the doc
On Jan. 10, Winfrey announced her departure from the project — just 20 minutes after she sent an email notifying Dick and Ziering of her plans. In her public statement, she cited creative differences while declaring her “respect” for the filmmakers she‘d left behind.
“In my opinion, there is more work to be done on the film to illuminate the full scope of what the victims endured and it has become clear that the filmmakers and I are not aligned in that creative vision,” Winfrey said.
“Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering are talented filmmakers. I have great respect for their mission but given the filmmakers’ desire to premiere the film at the Sundance Film Festival before I believe it is complete, I feel it’s best to step aside.”
She also noted that she “unequivocally” believes and supports Simmons’ accusers and clarified that she would continue to collaborate with Time’s Up to make sure the women’s stories are seen and heard.
“We support Oprah Winfrey in maintaining that the victims’ stories deserve to be heard on their own terms,” Time’s Up President Tina Tchen said in a statement.
“Too often, black women are silenced, disbelieved, or even vilified when they speak out. On top of that, for years, these women have been attacked by powerful forces surrounding Russell Simmons — illustrating how difficult it is to speak out against powerful men. And how important it is for powerful men to be held accountable for their actions.”
Apple also dropped its involvement, which had hinged on its deal with Winfrey.
The filmmakers respond
When Winfrey walked, Dick and Ziering released their own statement, expressing their disappointment while still giving her credit for standing by “the survivors in the film.”
“Revealing hard truths is never easy, and the women in our documentary are all showing extraordinary strength and courage by raising their voices to address sexual abuse in the music industry,” they said. “The film is a beacon of hope for voices that have long been suppressed, and an inspiration for anyone wanting to regain their personal power.”
In a follow-up interview, the directors told The Times they were blindsided by Winfrey’s move, describing their “close working relationship” with her throughout the making of the film.
“She loved, loved, loved what we did,” Ziering recalled. “And then she saw it numerous times throughout the editing process. We had a very close working relationship and very, very positive — enthusiastically positive. There weren’t any issues.”
Despite the setback, “On the Record” will still debut Jan. 25 at Sundance, where Dick and Ziering will be on the lookout for a new distributor.
Winfrey tells her side
In a New York Times piece published Friday, Winfrey elaborated on the reasoning behind her decision to pull out of the film, explaining the difficult balancing act she had been forced to perform. After hearing concerns from trusted external sources, Winfrey said, she ultimately felt the film needed more work and would not be ready in time for Sundance.
For those reasons, the industry veteran said, she dissociated herself from the vehicle — though she acknowledged that Simmons had pressured her “multiple times.” Winfrey maintained that she never stopped believing the women at any point.
“I told him directly in a phone call that I will not be pressured either into, or out of, backing this film,” Winfrey said. “I am only going to do what I believe to be the right thing.”
Winfrey said she also received calls from people who challenged Dixon’s account, as well as from “When They See Us” creator Ava DuVernay, who reportedly offered a harsh critique of the film after Winfrey asked her to view it through a cultural lens.
“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,” DuVernay told the New York Times. “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.”
Dixon told the New York Times she felt abandoned when she and other participants heard Winfrey was backing out.
“I feel like I’m experiencing a second crime,” Dixon said. “I am being silenced. The broader community is being intimidated. The most powerful black woman in the world is being intimidated.”