‘On the Record’ directors get dumped by Oprah days before Sundance. Then what happened?

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Drew Dixon grapples with whether to go public with her rape allegation against music mogul Russell Simmons. Photo credit: HBO Max.

The new documentary “On the Record,” available on HBO Max, explores multiple rape allegations against music mogul Russell Simmons. 

Much of the film centers around Drew Dixon, one of the first women to go public with such allegations. In 1995, when Dixon was 24, she thought she had landed her dream job at Simmons’ record label Def Jam.

One night, she says, Simmons lured her to his apartment, supposedly to listen to a CD of a new artist. Instead, she says, he raped her. 

The film shows Dixon as she debates whether to go on the record with her allegations against Simmons, as she ultimately did in the New York Times in late 2017. 

“On the Record” also features the accounts of several other women, including writer and domestic violence activist Sil Lai Abrams. (The Business host Kim Masters wrote about Abrams’ rape allegation against Simmons for The Hollywood Reporter.) 

Simmons, who denies wrongdoing, has sold off his businesses and moved to Bali — which does not have an extradition treaty with the U.S. 

The directors of “On the Record” are Amy Ziering and Kirby Dick, veteran filmmakers who have tackled sexual assault in their documentaries “The Invisible War” and “The Hunting Ground.”

For much of the time they spent making “On the Record,” Dick and Ziering thought they had secured the backing of Oprah Winfrey, who had agreed to be an executive producer on the film and secured them a deal with Apple. 

Ziering and Dick say they worked in close collaboration with Oprah, sending her cuts along the way and getting her enthusiastic approval of a rough cut in June 2019. 

But on January 10, just days before “On the Record” was set to debut at Sundance, Oprah withdrew her support, saying she wanted the film pulled from the festival because it needed revisions.

The filmmakers say they still don’t know exactly what led Oprah to pull out. And they say she informed them of her decision in an email that they received just 20 minutes before she went public. 

Oprah has maintained that she believes the women in the film. Her statement when she dropped out partly said that the film needed more work “to illuminate the full scope of what the victims endured.”

Dick and Ziering describe the shock of that setback and explain why they decided to go to Sundance anyway, where their film was greeted with multiple standing ovations and found a new home at HBO Max.

Credits

Guests:
Amy Ziering - film producer and director, Kirby Dick - film producer and director

Host:
Kim Masters

Producer:
Kaitlin Parker