Oprah Winfrey is disassociating herself from a new documentary about Russell Simmons and the #MeToo movement.
In December, Winfrey announced that she would act as executive producer on an untitled film by Oscar-nominated directors Amy Ziering and Kirby Dick, which focuses on some of the 20 women who have publicly accused Simmons of harassment and sexual assault. The film aired on Apple TV + after its January 25 premiere at the Sundance Film Festival.
But on Friday, Winfrey issued a statement saying it was retiring as an EP from the movie, which means it will not be aired on Apple TV + either, where it has an agreement with Harpo Productions.
“First of all, I want you to know that I believe and support unambiguously women. Their stories deserve to be told and heard, ”said Winfrey. “In my opinion, there is more work to be done on the film to clarify the full scope of what the victims suffered and it was clear that the filmmakers and I are not aligned with this creative vision. Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering are talented filmmakers. I have great respect for your mission, but given the desire of the filmmakers to debut the film at the Sundance Film Festival before I believe it is complete, I better get away. "
However, the film will still open at Sundance, according to its directors. In their own statement, Ziering and Dick said that although they were "disappointed" Winfrey had removed his name from the project, they were "pleased that Winfrey unambiguously said he believed and supported the survivors in the movie."
"Revealing harsh truths is never easy, and the women in our documentary are showing extraordinary strength and courage, raising their voices to combat sexual abuse in the music industry," the filmmakers said. "The film is a beacon of hope for voices that have long been suppressed and an inspiration for those who wish to regain their personal power."
Winfrey, meanwhile, made it clear on Friday that he would continue to work with Time's Up to support those who were sexually harassed. Tina Tchen, the foundation's president and CEO, issued a statement stating that Time & # 39; s Up "is in full support" of those who have filed complaints against Simmons.
"We support Oprah Winfrey in maintaining that the stories of the victims deserve to be heard on their own terms," said Tchen. “Black women are often silenced, disbelieving or even maligned when they speak. Also, for years, these women have been attacked by powerful forces around Russell Simmons – illustrating how difficult it is to speak against powerful men. And how important is that powerful men are held responsible for their actions. … As Oprah made clear in her statement, any decision by her and Apple regarding this documentary does not alter the underlying facts. "
Wade Robson, left, and James Safechuck during the recording of "Oprah Winfrey Presents: After Neverland".
(Bennett Raglin / OWN Network)
Winfrey is no stranger to controversy in the documentary field. Last January, the two-part series "Leaving Neverland" – in which two men revealed what they said were years of sexual abuse at the hands of Michael Jackson – debuted at Sundance. When the project debuted on HBO two months later, Winfrey interviewed his two guys, Wade Robson and James Safechuck, for a one-hour special that aired immediately after the broadcast of "Leaving Neverland."
"I haven't been that angry since I did the puppy episode with Ellen (DeGeneres)," Oprah told Trevor Noah on "The Daily Show" in April, referring to a 1997 episode of his talk show in which DeGeneres revealed that was a lesbian.
Simmons' documentary has been shrouded in secrecy since news of his debut was released. The name of the project has not yet been made public – is still listed as "Untitled Kirby Dick / Amy Ziering Film" on the Sundance website – but the press materials still don't say the movie is about the former head of Def Jam Records. It says, however, that the movie follows Drew Dixon, who told the New York Times in 2017 that she was raped by Simmons while working as an A&R executive at her company.
Simmons denies all charges of violence against him since late 2017, when Keri Claussen Khalighi became the first woman to accuse him of sexual abuse in the Los Angeles Times. Shortly after news of the Sundance project, Simmons went to Instagram to call Winfrey directly, saying that he found it "disturbing" that she had chosen to support the film. Rapper 50 Cent followed by own postarguing, "I don't understand why Oprah is stalking black men. Not Harvey Weinstein, No Epstein, just Michael Jackson and Russell Simmons, that's sad.
Simmons representatives did not immediately respond to requests for comments on the documentary.