Oprah Winfrey has withdrawn her support from a documentary about sexual assault allegations against Russell Simmons.
Winfrey was recently announced as an executive producer of the untitled doc from filmmakers Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering. The film is slated to debut later this month at the Sundance Film Festival, and was later going to air on Apple TV+, where Winfrey has a production deal.
On Friday, Winfrey released a statement saying she has problems with the filmmakers’ “creative vision” and would be exiting the project.
“I have decided that I will no longer be executive producer on The Untitled Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering documentary and it will not air on Apple TV+,” Winfrey said in a statement to the media.
“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 added. “Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering are talented filmmakers. 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.”
The filmmakers released a statement of their own, saying they were disappointed by Winfrey’s decision but still plan to screen the movie at Sundance.
“The film is a beacon of hope for voices that have long been suppressed, and an inspiration for anyone wanting to regain their personal power,” the statement said.
Meanwhile, Tina Tchen, president and CEO of the Time’s Up Foundation responded to Winfrey’s decision, by saying she supports the women who have accused Simmons of wrongdoing.
“Time’s Up is in full support of the survivors who have spoken out about Russell Simmons. These women are brave. We believe them,” Tchen said in comments on the organization’s website.
“We support Oprah Winfrey in maintaining that the victims’ stories deserve to be heard on their own terms,” Tchen added. Too often, black women are silenced, disbelieved, or even vilified when they speak out. On top of that, for years, these women have been attacked by powerful forces surrounding Russell Simmons – illustrating how difficult it is to speak out against powerful men. And how important it is for powerful men to be held accountable for their actions.”
Simmons has been accused of sexual misconduct by multiple women, however, he has vehemently denied all of the allegations. Among the accusers is former music exec Drew Dixon, the subject of the film.
Dixon worked for the hip-hop mogul at Def Jam Records and alleged in a New York Times interview that he raped her in 1995. Simmons denied her allegations.
News of Winfrey’s involvement with the documentary prompted Simmons and rapper 50 Cent to post statements on Instagram last month criticizing the media mogul. 50 Cent said Winfrey is “going after black men,” while Simmons called her participation with the film “troubling.”
“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,” Simmons wrote. “We bonded to say the least. This is why it’s so troubling that you choose me to single out in your recent documentary.”
“I don’t understand why Oprah is going after black men,” added 50 Cent on Instagram. “No Harvey Weinstein, No Epstein, just Michael Jackson and Russell Simmons, this shit is sad.”
Winfrey previously backed HBO documentary Leaving Neverland, which centered on allegations by Wade Robson and James Safechuck against Michael Jackson. She sat down with the two men and the film’s director, Dan Reed, for an emotional TV special about childhood sexual abuse that aired immediately after the conclusion of the doc.