“On the Record,” the new documentary on sexual assault allegations against Def Jam Recordings cofounder Russell Simmons, has been picked up by streaming service HBO Max following its premiere at the Sundance Festival, just three weeks after being dropped by Oprah Winfrey and AppleTV+.
Helmed by Academy Award-nominated directors Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering (“The Invisible War”), former Def Jam executive and accuser Drew Dixon is the focus of the documentary, “as she grapples with her decision to become one of the first women of color to come forward as part of the #MeToo Movement,” according to the film’s Sundance synopsis. In a 2018 interview with NPR’s “All Things Considered,” Drew shared that two decades ago she survived being raped by Simmons and was abused by other men in the music industry with whom she worked. Screenwriter Jenny Lumet, Sherri Hines (former member of the hip hop duo Mercedes Ladies), and Black feminist author Joan Morgan (“When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost”) are among those who appear in the doc.
Speaking to the audience at Sundance for the screening, Dixon reportedly said:
It’s an entertainment industry story after all, right? But nobody told our story. Because the people who knew our story were subject to the same ecosystem. And to me, this is where allies matter. Allies who are not subject to that same dynamic. They have traction that they can use to pull you forward, centering you with deference, which they did; to tell a story because they’re not subject to the incoming, that even powerful Black people are subject to. So, to me, this is why the filmmakers are White. Because they don’t have the same vulnerability. And so, thank God. And then they listened, and they deferred and they learned and they centered us.
When Winfrey was asked on CBS This Morning on January 21 why she removed her name from the project, the media mogul said, “I stand in support of these women. I believe them.” She continued, “Before the public pressure had started, before Russell had gone with his Instagram, I had gone to the filmmakers and I had said to them, ‘I think we have a problem here.’ Because new information had come forward.” And she said if they didn’t pull out of Sundance without first addressing what she considered to be “inconsistencies in the stories,” she’d have to take her name off as executive producer.
HBO Max saw it differently, as “On the Record” was its first-ever Sundance Festival acquisition, according to THR. In HBO Max’s announcement, Sarah Aubrey, head of original content at the streaming service, said, “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, 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.”