Oprah Winfrey pulls out documentary about sexual assault in the music industry
Former television host Oprah Winfrey recently announced that she was cutting ties with the yet-untitled documentary, which is set to premiere at the Sundance Film Festival later this January.
Winfrey served as executive producer on the project helmed by Oscar-nominated filmmakers Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering, who are best known for their critically-acclaimed documentaries on sexual assault on college campuses, “The Invisible War” and “The Hunting Ground”.
In a statement to the Hollywood Reporter, Winfrey explained that her departure stemmed from creative differences with Dick and Ziering.
“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 noted, also pointing out that the documentary will no longer be available on Apple TV+.
When first announced in December, the documentary was billed as “a profound examination of race, gender, class and intersectionality, and the toll assaults take on their victims and society at large,” with a particular focus on a former music executive “who grapples with whether to go public with her story of assault and abuse by a notable figure in the music industry.”
The official Sundance description recently revealed that the project will primarily follow executive Drew Dixon, who accused Def Jam Recordings co-founder and veteran producer Russell Simmons of rape and sexual misconduct.
Accusations against Simmons first arose in 2017 in the New York Times, although the producer has since repeatedly denied all the allegations.
Last December, the veteran musician called out Winfrey’s involvement in the upcoming documentary in a lengthy open letter on Instagram.
The post featured a photograph of the former TV host interviewing Simmons for his 2014 book “Success Through Stillness,” with the Def Jam Recordings co-founder writing that he found it “so troubling that you choose me to single out in your recent documentary.”
“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,” he added, claiming however he “ha[s] never been violent or forced [him]self on anyone.”
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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. 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. 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. 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. … 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
Despite Winfrey’s withdrawal and the subsequent cancellation of Apple TV+ distribution, filmmakers Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering told Deadline that the documentary will still make its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival on January 25.
“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,” they confirmed in a statement. IB/NVG
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