Posted on

Oprah Winfrey Pulls Out of Documentary on the Music Mogul Russell Simmons

Oprah Winfrey said on Friday that she was cutting ties with a documentary centered on women who have accused the music mogul Russell Simmons of sexual misconduct. The untitled film, scheduled to have its premiere this month at the Sundance Film Festival, focuses primarily on the executive Drew Dixon, who accused Mr. Simmons of raping her, an accusation Mr. Simmons has repeatedly denied.

Ms. Winfrey had served as an executive producer on the project by the veteran documentary filmmaking duo Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering, whose works include the 2015 film “The Hunting Ground,” an examination of rape on American college campuses, and “The Invisible War,” about sexual assault in the United States military.

With Ms. Winfrey’s departure, the film has also lost its distributor, Apple TV Plus. Apple had agreed to make the documentary available on its streaming platform as part of Ms. Winfrey’s overall deal with the company.

In a statement, Ms. Winfrey said she “unequivocally believes and supports the women,” adding that their stories “deserve to be told and heard.”

Her departure, she said, stemmed from creative differences with the filmmakers. “In my opinion, there is more work to be done on the film to illuminate the full scope of what the victims endured,” she said, “and it has become clear that the filmmakers and I are not aligned in that creative vision.”

Apple declined to comment.

Ms. Winfrey’s decision to leave the project came a month after Mr. Simmons questioned her involvement in the film in an open letter to her, posted on Instagram, that started with the words “Dearest Oprah.”

The post appeared on Dec. 13 next to a photograph of Ms. Winfrey interviewing Mr. Simmons about his 2014 book “Success Through Stillness” on the OWN program “Super Soul Sunday.” In the post, he said he found it “troubling that you choose me to single out in your recent documentary.” After conceding that he had “already admitted to being a playboy,” Mr. Simmons, who has faced at least a dozen accusations of sexual misconduct, said that he had “never been violent or forced myself on anyone.”

The day before Mr. Simmons’s Instagram post, the rapper 50 Cent used his own Instagram account to post a 2014 image of Ms. Winfrey and Mr. Simmons posing happily together with the comment, “I don’t understand why Oprah is going after black men.”

Ms. Winfrey’s departure is a blow to Mr. Dick and Ms. Ziering. The filmmakers had chronicled stories of sexual harassment and abuse even before the #MeToo movement came to prominence. For the new documentary, which also addresses black women’s relationship with the #MeToo movement, they spent two years tracking down Ms. Dixon and other women with accusations against Mr. Simmons.

Mr. Dick and Ms. Ziering said in a statement on Friday that, because the “#MeToo experiences of black women deserve to be heard,” they still planned to take the film to Sundance.

“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,” the filmmakers said in a statement. “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 difficulties surrounding the project represent another challenge to Apple, a newcomer to the film and television business whose streaming platform went live in November. Last month, the company shelved another high-profile film, “The Banker,” a civil rights drama based on a true story starring Anthony Mackie and Samuel L. Jackson, after a relative of its real-life protagonist accused her brother, a co-producer on the film, of sexual abuse.

Ms. Winfrey’s departure from the Simmons film was first reported by The Hollywood Reporter.

In her statement, Ms. Winfrey called Mr. Dick and Ms. Ziering “talented filmmakers,” adding, “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. I will be working with Time’s Up to support the victims and those impacted by abuse and sexual harassment.”


NYT > Business