Oprah exits documentary on music mogul Russell Simmons

Oprah Winfrey.
Oprah Winfrey.

NEW YORK • American television mogul Oprah Winfrey said last Friday she was cutting ties with a documentary centred on women who have accused music executive Russell Simmons of sexual misconduct.

The untitled film, scheduled to have its premiere this month at the Sundance Film Festival, focuses primarily on executive Drew Dixon, who accused Simmons of raping her - an accusation Simmons has repeatedly denied.

Winfrey had served as an executive producer on the project by the veteran documentary film-making 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 (2012), about sexual assault in the United States military.

With Winfrey's departure, the film has also lost its distributor, Apple TV+.

Apple had agreed to make the documentary available on its streaming platform as part of Winfrey's deal with the company.

In a statement, 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 film-makers.

"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.

Winfrey's decision to leave the project came a month after 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 Winfrey interviewing Simmons about his 2014 book Success Through Stillness.

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", Simmons, who has faced at least a dozen accusations of sexual misconduct, said he had "never been violent or forced myself on anyone".

Winfrey's departure is a blow to Dick and Ziering.

The film-makers had chronicled stories of sexual harassment and abuse even before the #MeToo movement came to prominence.

For the new documentary, they spent two years tracking down women with accusations against Simmons.

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 13, 2020, with the headline 'Oprah exits documentary on music mogul Russell Simmons'. Print Edition | Subscribe