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Survivors of sexual misconduct and their advocates published a statement on Thursday supporting Russell Simmons’ accusers on the eve of a documentary that highlights their voices.
“It takes great courage for any survivors of sexual assault to come forward, especially publicly. We admire the bravery of all of the Russell Simmons’ survivors and the #silencebreakers who stepped up to share their story in the @OnTheRecordDoc. We are unequivocally united in supporting the survivors in the film and all survivors of Russell Simmons. We want them to know: We believe you. We hear you. You deserve to be seen. #MeToo,” reads the statement, which was signed by names including Rose McGowan, Alyssa Milano, Evan Rachel Wood and others.
Other signatories include Ai-Jen Poo, Eve Ensler, Gina Belafonte, Gloria Steinem, Frances Fisher, Idina Menzel, Marisa Tomei, Frances Fisher, Monica Ramirez, Rosanna Arquette and Thandie Newton. Organizations who lent their names to the statement include Equality Now, V-Day, UltraViolet and Women and Hollywood. One name missing from the open letter’s signees is women’s empowerment movement Time’s Up.
Accusers of the music mogul will detail their stories in Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering’s documentary On the Record, set to debut Saturday at the Sundance Film Festival. The film features interviews with a number of women who have accused Simmons of rape, including Sil Lai Abrams, Sherri Hines, Jenny Lumet and former Def Jam executive Drew Dixon. (Simmons, who has been accused of sexual assault by at least 20 women, denies all allegations of nonconsensual sex).
Ahead of the high-profile doc’s festival premiere, executive producer Oprah Winfrey made the decision to step away from the project, citing creative differences with the filmmakers.
“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 Hollywood Reporter. “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,” Winfrey continued. “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.”
Winfrey’s withdrawal surprised the accusers, who, according to sources, were never contacted by Winfrey about her exit from the film. Dixon, whose claims of being sexually attacked by Simmons in 1994 are at the center of the doc, told THR that “the last few days have been like a hellscape that I honestly can’t even really believe is real.”
“I’m still just trying to wrap my head around the fact that somehow this is where we all find ourselves going into Sundance, which was already a source of anxiety, and now it’s just turned into a pressure cooker and it’s really, really scary,” she said.
In a response to Winfrey’s decision, Time’s Up Foundation president and CEO Tina Tchen shared in a statement, “Time’s Up is in full support of the survivors who have spoken out about Russell Simmons. These women are brave. We believe them. We support Oprah Winfrey in maintaining that the victims’ stories deserve to be heard on their own terms. 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,” Tchen continued. “As Oprah made clear in her statement, any decision by her and Apple regarding this documentary does not change the underlying facts. We assert Time’s Up’s unwavering support for these survivors. We are in awe of their courage and strength. We will continue to fight for them, and we will continue to fight for a future where black women are truly heard and believed.”
Read the full list of signatories of the statement below.
Bridgit Antoinette Evans
Evan Rachel Wood
Jess Morales Rocketto
Paula J. Giddings
Professor Kimberle Crenshaw
Sarah Sophie Flicker
Susan Celia Swan
Taina Bien Aime
Teresa C. Younger
Black Women’s Blueprint
Chicago Media Project
Coalition Against Trafficking in Women
Coalition to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking
Cohen Law Group
Futures Without Violence
Girls for Gender Equity
HEART Women & Girls
Innovations Human Trafficking Collaborative
Justice For Migrant Women
Ms. Foundation for Women
National Alliance to End Sexual Violence
National Coalition Against Domestic Violence
National Domestic Workers Alliance
National Women’s Law Center
New York Alliance on Sexual Assault
New York Women’s Foundation
One Billion Rising
Oregon Abuse Advocates and Survivors in Service
Protect Our Defenders
Sisterhood Is Global Institute
The Voices and Faces Project
Tools & Tiaras
We Are the Federation
Women and Hollywood
Women in Film, Los Angeles
Women’s Equal Justice Project
Women’s March Global
World Without Exploitation
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Sterling K. Brown