HBO Max has snapped up U.S. rights to Impact Partners’ and Jane Doe Films’ documentary On the Record, about the women who’ve accused music mogul Russell Simmons of rape. The movie stirred up a lot of controversy heading into its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, with Oprah Winfrey removing herself from as executive producer, and thus pulling On the Record‘s distribution from Apple TV+.
Last year, HBO had another controversial Sundance documentary Leaving Neverland. However, On the Record will only air on streaming service HBO Max, not the linear pay cable network. Currently to be determined is whether On the Record gets a theatrical release. While many distributors such as Focus Features, Roadside Attractions, Amazon, CNN Films, IFC, Showtime and Netflix attended the Sundance premiere of the doc produced and directed by Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering, I heard most of them passed on making a bid.
Author and activist Sil Lai Abrams, a former Def Jam assistant that is also one of Simmons’ accusers in On the Record, told Deadline that she believed Winfrey left the documentary given the social media backlash she received from Michael Jackson fans in the wake of supporting Leaving Neverland last year.
In the wake of stepping away, Winfrey spoke to CBS This Morning and the New York Times about how she, after consulting filmmaker Ava DuVernay, questioned the veracity of former music executive Drew Dixon, the key accuser in On the Record.
On the Record follows Dixon, a producer of hit records by Method Man and Mary J. Blige, Estelle and Kanye West, and Whitney Houston, as she grapples with the decision to become one of the first women of color, in the wake of #MeToo, to come forward and publicly accuse Simmons of sexual misconduct. The film chronicles not only Dixon’s story, but but also those of several other accusers — Abrams, Sheri Hines, Jenny Lumet and Alexia Norton Jones – delving into the ways the voices of women of color are all too often silenced and ignored when reporting these crimes, as well as the various cultural forces that conspire to make them reluctant to do so.
“The fierce determination of Drew Dixon and all of the women who bravely chose to share their stories in On The Record moved us profoundly,” said Sarah Aubrey, head of original content at HBO Max in a statement Monday. “I’ve been impressed with Amy and Kirby’s work over the years covering this complex subject matter, and look forward to this film finding the widest possible audience.”
“Kirby and I are so proud to be teaming with HBO Max to give this film the outstanding platform it deserves and can’t wait for the public to see and hear the voices of these courageous women,” said Ziering.
“Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering are national treasures,” said Dan Cogan and Jenny Raskin of Impact Partners. “We are honored that HBO Max has decided to embrace this highly-anticipated film as their first festival acquisition ever, and we are thrilled for them to share it with their new audience.”
The documentary is produced by Dick and Ziering’s Jane Doe Films, with Dan Cogan for Impact Partners, Regina K Scully for Artemis Rising, Ian Darling for Shark Island and Abigail Disney for Level Forward serving as executive producers. The creative team includes producers Jamie Rogers and Amy Herdy. UTA Independent Film Group brokered the deal.
Dick and Ziering’s 2015 documentary The Hunting Ground earned an Oscar nomination for the Diane Warren-Lady Gaga original song “Til It Happens to You.” Dick and Ziering were also Oscar nominated in the feature doc category for 2012’s The Invisible War, which broke the story of the epidemic of rape in the U.S. military, leading to five congressional hearings and the passing of 35 reforms through Congress. Their 2018 doc The Bleeding Edge, follows the fast-growing medical device industry’s corruption and malfeasance, which compelled industry giant Bayer to remove one harmful device from the market, and is catalyzing a worldwide debate about regulation and patient safety.