One of the ugliest and most underreported of the #MeToo stories involved allegations of sexual assault by Russell Simmons. A documentary set to tell the stories of the Farrakhan fan accusers was supposed to be backed by Oprah and Apple.
Not anymore. And the question is why.
The email from Winfrey, sent at 3:10 p.m. on Jan. 10, had come as a shock. In her message, the filmmakers said, the Harpo Productions head said she would no longer be serving as the executive producer of their still untitled documentary about the survivors of Russell Simmons’ alleged sexual abuse. Subsequently, the movie — set to premiere at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival — was dropped from a planned release on Apple TV+ through Winfrey’s deal with the streaming platform.
Winfrey, who did not respond to The Times’ request for comment, announced her collaboration with Dick and Ziering — then called “Toxic Labor” — at Apple TV’s first media presentation in Cupertino, Calif. on March 25. Apple, which also did not respond to The Times’ inquiries, subsequently wrote the application submitting the movie to Sundance in October, the filmmakers said. It was accepted to the festival, and in November, Ziering and Dick locked picture. On Dec. 3 — a day before the Sundance lineup was released — Harpo and Apple put out their own announcement touting the collaboration.
Online, however, backlash was brewing. On Dec. 12, the rapper 50 Cent posted a picture of a smiling Winfrey and Simmons together on his Instagram account, accompanied by a caption questioning “why Oprah is going after black men” instead of Harvey Weinstein or Jeffrey Epstein. He alluded to the fact that Winfrey had also supported two alleged survivors of Michael Jackson’s sexual abuse who appeared in the HBO documentary “Leaving Neverland.” After that film aired in March 2019, Winfrey sat down with the subjects, Wade Robson and James Safechuck, for an interview special. She has since said that never before in her career had one of her interviews sparked such “hateration.”
Dick and Ziering are lefties and their credibility is problematic. Especially considering Hunting Ground. But this isn’t about them. It’s about Simmons’ accusers.
That came on Nov. 19, 2017, when Keri Claussen Khalighi told the paper that in 1991, when she was a 17-year-old model, Simmons had forced her to perform oral sex on him and then penetrated her from behind while she was showering. Since then, an additional 19 women — including Dixon, who spoke out in a Dec. 13, 2017 New York Times article — have alleged that Simmons was sexually inappropriate with them. He has vehemently denied all the claims, describing himself as a reformed “womanizer” who has “never been violent or forced myself on anyone.”
Simmons is powerful and connected. And the long term story of #MeToo is slowly turning into one of legal attrition in which the superior legal firepower and resources of the accused is turning the tide against their accusers.