Is something rotten in the cotton?
After further consideration, Oprah Winfrey will not participate in a high-profile documentary focusing on one of several women who have accused hip-hop pioneer Russell Simmons of sexual violence.
On Friday, the media mogul announced that she would “no longer be executive producer” on the untitled documentary, which is set to premiere at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival.
The film was also set to run on Apple’s new streaming service, Apple TV+, but Winfrey added that that would no longer be an option.
“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 to The Hollywood Reporter.
“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,” she wrote.
“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 furthered.
“I will be working with Time’s Up to support the victims and those impacted by abuse and sexual harassment,” she concluded.
The documentary spotlights Drew Dixon, one of several women to accuse the Def Jam Records co-founder of rape.
The daughter of former Washington D.C. mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly and a sought after A&R professional who worked with Notorious B.I.G., Method Man, John Legend, Q-Tip, Brand Nubian and Antonio “L.A.” Reid, Dixon revealed to the New York Times in 2017 that Simmons raped her in 1995 when she was a staffer at the storied rap music empire.
In December, Simmons—who has maintained his innocence, previously took to social media to speak out about Winfrey’s association with the film. Others in the hip-hop community followed suit, notably hip-hop icon 50 Cent, who said that Winfrey was “going after black men” with her involvement with the scathing documentaries. She previously threw her full support behind HBO’s Emmy Award-winning Michael Jackson takedown Leaving Neverland.
In response to Winfrey and Apple divesting from the untitled documentary, the filmmakers — Amy Ziering and Kirby Dick — sent the following statement to The Root:
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.
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 film 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.
Also, Tina Tchen, president and CEO of the TIME’S UP Foundation, issued the following statement:
TIME’S UP 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. 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.
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.
The untitled film is still set to premiere at Sundance on Jan. 25.