Oprah Winfrey said Tuesday on CBS This Morning that she received pressure from Russell Simmons over her involvement in the Sundance Film Festival-bound documentary about the sexual assault accusations against him only after she raised concerns about the film, and that it was a “hard decision” because she believes the women at the center of the film.
“This is not a victory for Russell,” she said during her appearance this morning. “I unequivocally say that I did not pull out because of Russell. This is not a victory lap for him. I cannot be silenced by a Russell Simmons after all I’ve been through.”
Winfrey’s stunned filmmakers Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering by withdrawing from their feature documentary On the Record, about the women who have accused media mogul Russell Simmons of sexual misconduct. The film is still scheduled to be screened January 25 at Sundance. Winfrey’s exit as an executive producer also meant she pulled the film from the Apple TV+ streaming platform, meaning the filmmakers are also looking for a distribution deal in Park City.
Winfrey said Tuesday that she believed the project needed to be pulled from its Sundance slot in the Documentary Premieres section, and told the filmmaking team that if that didn’t happen she would exit. “I had said to them, ‘Houston, I think we have a problem here,’ because new information had come forward,” she said.
She added: “I don’t care about awards — I just care about getting it right, and I think there’s some inconsistencies in the stories that we need to look at. I wanted the context of the story to be broadened, I wanted more women brought into the story.”
Winfrey made a similar case in a piece about the news in the New York Times, also saying she had misgivings about its direction. She said she sent the documentary to Ava DuVernay for her opinion on whether the two filmmakers “captured the nuances of hip-hop culture and the struggles of black women.” DuVernay reportedly gave a “harsh” negative opinion on that score as she told the NYT.
The documentary centers music executive Drew Dixon, who has accused Simmons of sexual misconduct. Simmons has denied the charges against him.
The On the Record filmmakers told Deadline that they are pressing forward.
“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,” Dick and Ziering said last week. “While we are disappointed that Oprah Winfrey is no longer an Executive Producer on the project, we are gratified that Winfrey has unequivocally said she believes and supports the survivors in the film.”