Oprah Winfrey on dropping out of Russell Simmons doc: 'I thought some things were not right'
Following last week’s announcement that Oprah Winfrey dropped her name from Apple TV+’s Russell Simmons documentary , the media mogul appeared on CBS This Morning with friend and host Gayle King to go into more detail on her decision. Ultimately, she said, “I thought some things were not right” with the film.
“First of all, I just want to say that I have lived #MeToo since I was 9 years old and was raped at 9, sexually assaulted from 9 to 14, and then raped again at 14. And nothing is harder than standing up for yourself when you’re 14 and not being believed, and I was not believed by my own family,” Winfrey began. “So, I stand in support of these women. I believe them.”
According to a Sundance Film Festival description of the untitled documentary from filmmakers Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering, the film centers on Drew Dixon, a former music executive who worked for Simmons and later accused him rape and sexual misconduct in a 2017 interview with The New York Times. Multiple other women have also come forward with similar accusations. Simmons has denied all the allegations against him.
“It was a hard decision because I knew that Russell Simmons had started publicly pressuring me and that me pulling out of the documentary was going to look like I was being pressured,” Winfrey said.
In a past interview with The New York Times, Winfrey mentioned that Simmons “did reach out multiple times and attempted to pressure me. I told him directly in a phone call that I will not be pressured either into, or out of, backing this film.” Publicly, Simmons posted a message to Winfrey on Instagram in December that once again denied the allegations against him and said how he found it “so troubling that you choose me to single out in your recent [documentary].”
A statement from Simmons’ rep to PEOPLE read, “If defending himself against terrible accusations is considered intimidation then there would be no justice. Witnesses and family members were intimidated for expressing their views against these allegations.”
“The only question for me is, what is the right thing to do… for me,” Winfrey said Tuesday on CBS This Morning. “And so, before the public pressure had started, before Russell had gone with his Instagram, I had gone to the filmmakers and I had said to them, ‘Houston, I think we have a problem here,’ because new information had come forward the very first time this was announced and I said, ‘I think we need to pull out of Sundance and if we can’t pull out of Sundance, I’m gonna have to take my name off. I don’t wanna have to take my name off because it’s gonna be a big hullabaloo.'”
The doc is still slated to premiere at Sundance, but Winfrey’s initial statement on the matter states “it will not air on Apple TV+.”
“I believe that the women’s voices deserve to be heard and as, an executive producer, I also was in a position where I thought some things were not right,” she continued. “I wanted the context of the story to be broadened, I wanted more women brought into the story.” Winfrey also mentioned CBS News’ reporter Michelle Miller, who interviewed three of Simmons’ accusers for a segment last week. “One of the women had just been added, [Alexia Norton Jones] … and I had asked that more women had been added [to the documentary]. When you see the documentary, and I do hope that people see the documentary, I hope that story needed to be broadened.”
Winfrey previously praised Dick and Ziering as “talented filmmakers.” In a separate statement, the documentarians said, “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. 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 of 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. The film, more than two years in the making, will be our eighth film to premiere 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 power power.”