Oprah Winfrey says Russell Simmons contacted her multiple times urging her to abandon a documentary about sexual assault allegations against him.
“He did reach out multiple times and attempted to pressure me,” Winfrey said, adding that Simmons told her Drew Dixon, the main subject of the film was lying.
Dixon is a former music executive who worked for Simmons at Def Jam Records, and has alleged in interviews that he raped her in 1995. Simmons has repeatedly denied all allegations of nonconsensual sex.
Winfrey said others, whom she would not identify, also contacted her about Dixon. Winfrey insisted in the Times interview that she ultimately backed out of the project because of inconsistencies in Dixon’s story, not anything Simmons said.
“I told him directly in a phone call that I will not be pressured either into, or out of, backing this film. I am only going to do what I believe to be the right thing,” Winfrey said. She also revealed that she turned to When They See Us director Ava DuVernay to get her opinion on the Simmons doc before making a decision.
On Friday, Simmons issued a statement through a rep explaining why he contacted Winfrey.
“If defending himself against terrible accusations is considered intimidation then there would be no justice,” the statement said.
Winfrey announced she was dropping support for the film on Jan. 10. “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 said at the time.
Meanwhile Dixon told the Times Friday she’s being “silenced.”
“I feel like I’m experiencing a second crime,” she said. “I am being silenced. The broader community is being intimidated. The most powerful black woman in the world is being intimidated.”
Winfrey’s withdrawal from the film led Apple TV+, where she has a production deal, to shelve plans to stream the movie.
Directors Amy Ziering and Kirby Dick said they were blindsided by Winfrey’s announcement, just two weeks before the doc was scheduled to premiere at the Sundance Film Festival.
“It was very disappointing and upsetting,” Ziering said earlier Friday. “We were concerned about the survivors and what the hell this is going to do to them. That was our first thought. ‘Oh my God. Let’s tell everybody and figure this out.’”
News of Winfrey’s involvement with the film prompted Simmons and rapper 50 Cent to criticize her on social media. 50 Cent accused her in an Instagram post of “going after black men.”
The doc is still scheduled to screen as planned at Sundance on Jan. 25, but for now no studio or streaming service has stepped in to distribute it.