Home Movies Oprah Exits a Me Too Documentary about DefJam’s Russell Simmons After Filmmakers...

Oprah Winfrey is certainly in the news right now. It seem she’s been busy advising Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, if reports are correct.

But Oprah is also involved in another surprising scenario. She was listed as executive producer of a documentary about rap music impresario and philanthropist Russell Simmons. The founder of Def Jam Records almost immediately became embroiled in the #MeToo movement after accusations of small time sexual malfeasance and rape. He was the subject of lawsuits as well. Simmons shut down his charity and businesses and moved to Tibet, where’s been posting photos and videos of meditation retreats and so on.

The documentary, by Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering, is premiering at the Sundance Film Festival on January 25th. But now Oprah has suddenly pulled out of the project, and decided not to include it in her presentations on AppleTV+.  The film will still premiere at the festival, but it now lacks Winfrey’s imprint.

Dick and Ziering are highly regarded doc makers. Their “The Hunting Ground” was nominated for lots of awards and was shown on CNN. The pair have issued a statement after Oprah announced she was off the project because it wasn’t ready, in her opinion. The filmmakers told Deadline.com: “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 in the film.”

But this isn’t the first time Oprah has caused a major problem for Dick and Ziering on this same film. The doc was originally going to be centered on Harvey Weinstein and how the #MeToo era launched. In October 2017 just two weeks after Weinstein was exposed in the New York Times and the New Yorker, the pair announced they were making the film.

This past December, however, Dick and Ziering announced that their film had changed focus, to the record business and “major figure.” Oprah was suddenly on board. Weinstein was no longer being discussed, as Simmons took his place.

So now there’s no Weinstein film, and Oprah has dealt the filmmakers a significant blow by making a public exit. She’s also declared their film somehow unfit for release, at least under her auspices.

All of this comes a year after Oprah unwisely involved herself in the Michael Jackson documentary, “Leaving Neverland.” After the film– which accused Jackson of child molestation with no evidence other than two young men’s unfounded complaints– Oprah did a live interview with the subjects on HBO. Again, without supporting evidence, she simply decided they were telling the truth.

We’re getting into a strange area here where Oprah makes the call, based on her gut feeling, about which victims have validity and which don’t. Jackson was dead, so it was easy for her to go against him. In the cases of Weinstein and Simmons, she can’t be objective. Weinstein put her in the movie “The Butler,” in which she garnered great reviews. She also got an Oscar campaign and became very friendly with the movie mogul.

In Simmons’ case, he and Oprah are long time friends. Back in December, Simmons took to Instagram to urge Oprah to stop the film once he learned she was involved with it. She obviously took what he said seriously. (See his plea below.)

It’s hoped that Dick and Ziering will find a new distributor or platform at Sundance now that Oprah is gone. Like Winfrey, I’ve known and liked Simmons for years and years. But the accusations against him are serious and must be aired, and discussed. I also hope that these filmmakers, unlike the director of “Leaving Neverland,” have presented all sides of the stories.

Here’s what Simmons wrote to Oprah:

“Dearest OPRAH,you have been a shining light to my family and my community. Contributing so much to my life that I couldn’t list a fraction of it in this blog.Ihave given you the gift of meditation and the groundbreaking book”THE POWER OF NOW “we bonded to say the least. This is why it’s so troubling that you choose me to single out in your recent documentry. I have already admitted to being a playboy more (appropriately titled today “womanizer”) sleeping with and putting myself in more compromising situations than almost any man I know. Not 8 or 14 thousand like Warren Beatty or Wilt Chamberlain, but still an embarrassing number. So many that some could reinterpret or reimagine a different recollection of the same experiences. Please note that ur producers said that this upcoming doc was to focus ONLY on 3 hand chosen women. I have refused to get in the mud with any accusers, but let’s acknowledge what i have shared. I have taken and passed nine 3-hour lie detector tests (taken for my daughters), that these stories have been passed on by CNN, NBC, BUZZFEED, NY POST, NY MAG, AND OTHERS. Now that you have reviewed the facts and you SHOULD have learned what I know; that these stories are UNUSABLE and that “hurt people hurt people”. Today I received a call from an old girlfriend from the early 1980s which means that they are using my words/evidence against me and their COMMITMENT/ (all of the claims are 25 to 40 years old) It is impossible to prove what happened 40 years ago, but in my case proof exists of what didn’t happen, mostly signed letters from their own parents, siblings, roommates, band members, interns, and in the case of 2 of your 3 accusers,their own words in their books. Shocking how many people have misused this important powerful revolution for relevance and money. … In closing, I am guilty of exploiting, supporting, and making the soundtrack for a grossly unequal society, but i have never been violent or forced myself on anyone. Still I am here to help support a necessary shift in power and consciousness. Let us get to work on uplifting humanity and put this moment and old narrative behind us”

 

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Dearest OPRAH,you have been a shining light to my family and my community. Contributing so much to my life that I couldn’t list a fraction of it in this blog.Ihave given you the gift of meditation and the groundbreaking book”THE POWER OF NOW “we bonded to say the least. This is why it’s so troubling that you choose me to single out in your recent documentry. I have already admitted to being a playboy more (appropriately titled today “womanizer”) sleeping with and putting myself in more compromising situations than almost any man I know. Not 8 or 14 thousand like Warren Beatty or Wilt Chamberlain, but still an embarrassing number. So many that some could reinterpret or reimagine a different recollection of the same experiences. Please note that ur producers said that this upcoming doc was to focus ONLY on 3 hand chosen women. I have refused to get in the mud with any accusers, but let’s acknowledge what i have shared. I have taken and passed nine 3-hour lie detector tests (taken for my daughters), that these stories have been passed on by CNN, NBC, BUZZFEED, NY POST, NY MAG, AND OTHERS. Now that you have reviewed the facts and you SHOULD have learned what I know; that these stories are UNUSABLE and that “hurt people hurt people”. Today I received a call from an old girlfriend from the early 1980s which means that they are using my words/evidence against me and their COMMITMENT/ (all of the claims are 25 to 40 years old) It is impossible to prove what happened 40 years ago, but in my case proof exists of what didn’t happen, mostly signed letters from their own parents, siblings, roommates, band members, interns, and in the case of 2 of your 3 accusers,their own words in their books. Shocking how many people have misused this important powerful revolution for relevance and money. … In closing, I am guilty of exploiting, supporting, and making the soundtrack for a grossly unequal society, but i have never been violent or forced myself on anyone. Still I am here to help support a necessary shift in power and consciousness. Let us get to work on uplifting humanity and put this moment and old narrative behind us

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