Sundance: Russell Simmons Accuser Doc 'On the Record' Gets Multiple Standing Ovations

Untitled Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering Film -Documentary- SPLASH 2020
Courtesy of Sundance Institute/Photo by Omar Mullick

"This is where allies matter — allies that are not subject to that same dynamic," said doc subject Drew Dixon of directors Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering.

On the Record's filmmakers and its subjects received several standing ovations at the first public screening of the Russell Simmons accuser documentary Saturday at the Sundance Film Festival.

Ahead of the screening, documentarians Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering received a standing ovation before addressing the audience in the Marc Theater, with a tearful Ziering offering, "You are going to bear witness to some of the most extraordinary people we have been privileged to work with over the past couple of years."

As the credits rolled after the doc, the audience gave a standing ovation to the movie, and yet another as the filmmakers and the subjects of the doc appear onstage post-credits.

On the Record tells the stories of Simmons' accusers as they decide to go public with their claims of sexual harassment and assault at the hands of the Def Jam music mogul. The Saturday night premiere was the first time the film was seen by an audience following the much-publicized withdrawal of support from onetime executive producer Oprah Winfrey and the loss of distributor AppleTV+. Winfrey cited creative differences with the filmmakers as the reason for her withdrawal.

When an audience member asked during the post-screening Q&A whether pushback over the doc was due in part to the filmmakers being white and telling the stories of black female accusers against a powerful black man, subjects Drew Dixon and Sil Lai Abrams came to the directors' defense.

"Nobody told our story because the people who knew our story were subject to the same ecosystem," began Dixon.

She continued: "This is where allies matter — allies that are not subject to that same dynamic. They have traction and they can use it to pull you forward and [center] you with deference to tell a story because they are not subject to the [pressure] that even powerful black people are subject to. To me, this is why the filmmakers are white: because they do not have the same vulnerability." 

Abrams, who in June 2018 shared her experiences with Kim Masters of The Hollywood Reporter, offered her own answer to the question.

"I cannot speak for any other black woman who has tried to come forward to those in her community to try and express the pain and trauma of what she has been through, but I will tell you this: I will not choose my race over my gender," she said, adding, "They are intertwined. I am both." 

"I can love my people and still have the right to stand up and tell my story. And it is unfortunate that the people who actually took me seriously and broke my story were white," said Abrams. 

On the Record is screening at Sundance in the festival's U.S. Documentary Competition section.