Oprah Winfrey Pulls Out as Producer of Russell Simmons #MeToo Documentary
Oprah Winfrey is stepping back as executive producer of a Russell Simmons #MeToo documentary
The media mogul, 65, was set to be an executive producer on the untitled film, which is slated for a Sundance Film Festival premiere later this month.
The documentary focuses on a former music executive who has accused Simmons of sexual misconduct and was intended to air on Apple TV+. Simmons has vehemently denied all allegations against him.
“I have decided that I will no longer be executive producer on The Untitled Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering Documentary and it will not air on Apple TV+,” Winfrey said in a statement obtained by PEOPLE.
“First and foremost, I want it to be known that I unequivocally believe and support the women Their stories deserve to be told and heard. 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 continued. “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 added, “I will be working with Time’s Up to support the victims and those impacted by the abuse and sexual harassment.”
In a statement obtained by PEOPLE, Dick and Ziering said, “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. 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.”
They continued, “The #MeToo experiences of Black women deserve to be heard, especially against powerful men, so we will continue with our plans to bring the film to The Sundance Film Festival. This film more than two years in the making, will be our eighth to premiere at Sundance.”
“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,” they added.
Tina Tchen, president and CEO of TIME’S UP Foundation said in a statement the organization “is in full support of the survivors who have spoken out about Russell Simmons. These women are brave. We believe them.”
“We support Oprah Winfrey in maintaining that the victims’ stories deserve to be heard on their own terms. Too often, black women are silenced, disbelieved or even vilified when they speak out,” Tchen said. “On top of that, for year, 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.”
She continued, “As Oprah made clear in her statement, any decision by her and Apple regarding this documentary does not change the underlying facts. We assert TIME’S UP’s unwavering support for these survivors. We are in awe of their courage and strength. We will continue to fight for them, and we will continue to fight for a future where black women are truly heard and believed.”
Simmons made his feelings about the documentary known on social media in December when he shared a photo of himself and Winfrey from a previous Super Soul Sunday session in which he was a guest.
“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,” Simmons began. “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.”
He continued, “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.”
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“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.”
Simmons denied the allegations that he had “forced” himself on women in his post, writing, “… 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.”
Multiple women have accused the music producer of sexual misconduct including Drew Dixon, who is the subject of the documentary and one of the first women to come forward with accusations toward Simmons.
In 2017, Dixon told The New York Times she was working her “dream job” as an executive at Def Jam Recordings in 1995 but allegedly dealt with “prolonged and aggressive sexual harassment” by Simmons, who co-founded the label.
According to Dixon, Simmons made sexual comments about her and asked her to sit on his lap during a staff meeting, in addition to regularly exposing his erect penis to her.
Dixon alleges his behavior culminated in rape one day in his Manhattan apartment. “I was broken,” she told the Times, adding that Simmons allegedly pinned her to his bed and she later woke up naked in his hot tub after blacking out despite not having any alcohol.