It’s Time to Go ON THE RECORD

As published on LinkedIn Influencers on May 29th, 2020.

Sundance 2020 Premiere – author photo

Was the 2020 Sundance Film Festival really only four months ago? It feels like a lifetime and another reality ago. Sundance was the last major film festival to happen before COVID-19 brought events and mass gatherings to a halt, but thankfully they are continuing online. In fact, I’m proud to say that Seed&Spark, an early stage investment that I made years ago, is pioneering ways to help make this happen, ensuring that the festival experience will continue during these unprecedented times. That being said, there is nothing like the energy and anticipation of an opening night premiere, and four months later, there’s one in particular from Sundance 2020 that I can’t stop thinking about: On the Record.

On the Record is the latest documentary film from critically acclaimed filmmakers Amy Ziering and Kirby Dick, the duo behind The Invisible War and The Hunting Ground (full disclosure: I was an Executive Producer of The Hunting Ground). Both of those films were searing indictments of the epidemic of sexual assault in the US military and across US college campuses respectively, and notably, they were both released before the #MeToo movement swept across the globe, premiering at Sundance in 2012 and 2015 respectively. It could be argued that these films helped to lay the groundwork and added muscle to the movement. And now there is On The Record, which in my opinion is their best film yet. More importantly, these films are helping to ensure that issues of sexual assault, harassment, and violence are staying front and center, even when the headlines are being dominated by COVID-19. We have certainly learned a lot of things during this pandemic, including the importance of storytelling to create empathy and action. Now more than ever, telling the stories of survivors of all kinds remains critically important.

The woman at the center of this documentary is Drew Dixon, a former music executive at Def Jam Recordings and Arista Records. She became one of the first women of color to allege sexual assault at the hands of a very prominent black man in the #MeToo era, and On the Record details her experience. The alleged perpetrator is Def Jam co-founder Russell Simmons, with further professional retaliation by LA Reid. Dixon is joined in the documentary by several more women, all alleging sexual assault, harassment, and even rape at the hands of Russell Simmons. Their stories are ones of workplace behavior, and the film offers a deep and painful look into how careers can be derailed and destroyed.

While watching the film, what hit me the hardest was how much talent was and continues to be wasted, not to mention how much potential goes unrealized, because of the unspeakable behavior of powerful men. This film looks at this issue within the music industry. Dixon is deeply credible, in fact, beyond credible, and any accusations that she may not be leave me baffled. On the Record goes to great lengths to share just how talented she was in telling her story of moving up the ranks in a challenging industry practically devoid of female representation. I could not help but draw parallels to the financial services industry I worked in for over a decade. This film, much like Untouchable, offers a very painful study on this type of behavior, and in so doing, I hope it sheds light on how to stop it.

The stories of all of the brave women in this film were heart-wrenching to watch, but On the Record goes further by delving deeper into the reasons why up until recently the voices of the #MeToo movement were not fully representative of the spectrum of survivors. In particular, it examines the systemic discriminations that far too often silence women of color, and looks at the cultural pressures from within their own communities to stay silent. In interviews, Dixon has spoken candidly about the social norms within African American communities that favor protecting their men at all costs, even at the expense of the women who may have been victims of those men. Where On the Record shines is how it addresses these issues with sensitive insight and informative critiques, all while ensuring that a powerful man is finally held accountable for his actions.

On the Record has already weathered a turbulent road to release. Just weeks before its scheduled premiere at Sundance, Oprah Winfrey pulled out of the project as lead producer. She took Apple TV with her as the film’s distributor, meaning On the Record debuted under a cloud of controversy and uncertainty. I was in the audience for the premiere, and believe me when I say that the atmosphere was electric. When the credits rolled, the film was given an extended standing ovation, one that was well earned in my opinion. The question and answer period following the film was equally emotionally charged, and it remains one of the most memorable experiences in my ten years of Sundance screenings. The filmmakers, both white filmmakers, were challenged as to their place to tell this story, and I believe it was Dixon who passionately responded with respect to the sensitivity and responsiveness of both Amy and Kirby.

Also on stage responding to questions was the legendary Dr. Kimberly Crenshaw, whose articulation of intersectionality, a key concept of this film, was so powerful and needed. Dr. Crenshaw actually coined the term ‘intersectionality’ over 30 years ago, and today is considered one of the foremost experts in critical race theory. Her presence brought so much to an already incredible night. The next morning, the rave reviews flooded in, and shortly after Sundance concluded, On the Record secured distribution through HBO Max. There are many reasons why I’m proud to be a board member of the Sundance Institute, but their commitment to standing behind important films like On the Record, especially in the face of such highly publicized defections, is top of my list.

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Filmmakers Amy and Kirby – author photo

HBO Max is the latest entry in the streaming wars, and upon its long awaited debut on Wednesday, On the Record was being touted as one of the premium examples of original content waiting for subscribers. To sign up, please click here (no, they are not paying me, i just really want you to see this film!). I know that one of the biggest headlines surrounding HBO Max was its acquisition of Friends reruns, but HBO has a long tradition of supporting hard hitting documentary and narrative films. I for one am very grateful that they acquired the rights to On the Record, thereby ensuring that this film would be seen beyond Sundance. I have no doubt that there was a lot of pressure by many within the music industry to not give this film a home. Even more than that, I am grateful to the filmmakers and for the many brave women who so boldly came forward to share their stories. Doing so always comes at huge personal cost to survivors who speak out, and therefore we can honor their bravery by choosing to watch their stories, and by doing our best to understand and take action against this pervasive behavior.

Update: Here is a link to the trailer, a discussion guide, and organizations to support. Thanks to Jamia Wilson for calling it to my attention.

On the Record is getting rave reviews and is 100% certified fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. Full coverage below.

Breaks

DEADLINE – May 27, 2020 – “‘On The Record’ Filmmakers Kirby Dick & Amy Ziering Sign With WME” By Denise Petski **also sent as an e-mail blast**

FILM INDEPENDENT E-BLAST – May 26, 2020 – “This Week at Film Independent” by Staff

FORTUNE | BROADSHEET NEWSLETTER– May 27, 2020 – “‘On the Record’ is a reminder that the #MeToo movement is here to stay” By Kristen Bellstrom and Emma Hinchcliffe

THE GRIO – May 27, 2020 – “5 reasons to watch Russell Simmons accuser doc ‘On The Record’” By Cortney Wills

NEW YORK POST – May 27, 2020 – “HBO Max pushes ‘Legendary’ status with streaming premiere” By Eric Hegedus 

TIME– May 27, 2020 – “Which HBO Max Originals to Watch—and Which to Skip” By Judy Berman

WOMEN AND HOLLYWOOD– May 27, 2020 – “Pick of the Day: ‘On the Record’” By Melissa Silverstein

Op-Eds

Mother Jones – May 27, 2020 – “The New Russell Simmons Documentary Grapples With the Price Black Women Pay When They Accuse Their Own” By Jamilah King

NBC NEWS – May 27, 2020 – “HBO Max’s Russell Simmons film explores how white supremacy shames Black assault victims” By Candace McDuffie

The Root – May 27, 2020 – “On the Record: Russell Simmons Finally Faces the Music, But He Shouldn’t Be the Only One Listening” By Jay Connor

Interviews

Billboard– May 27, 2020 – “Why Russell Simmons’ Accusers Don’t Think the Music Biz Is Getting Better for Women” by Cathy Applefeld Olson // featuring Sil Lai Abrams, Drew Dixon, Sheri Sher

Documentary.org– May 27, 2020 – “‘On The Record’ Investigates Sexual Misconduct in the Music Industry” by Addie Morfoot // featuring Kirby Dick & Amy Ziering

IndieWire – May 27, 2020 – “‘On the Record’: For Russell Simmons’ Accusers, the Film’s Release is Met with Mixed Feelings” by Tambay Obenson // featuring Sil Lai Abrams, Drew Dixon, Sheri Sher

KPCC “Take Two” – May 27, 2020 – “Interview with Amy Ziering and Drew Dixon” by A. Martinez // featuring Drew Dixon + Amy Ziering **Interview begins at the 30:54 mark”

LA Times – May 27, 2020 – “What it’s like to come forward as a sexual assault survivor in the midst of a pandemic” by Amy Kaufman // featuring Sil Lai Abrams, Kirby Dick, Drew Dixon, Sheri Sher, Amy Ziering

Madame Noire – May 27, 2020 – “Celebrity Does Not Equal Virtue. Russell Simmons Rape Accuser Sil Lai Abrams Talks On The Record, Healing & More” by Veronica Wells // featuring Sil Lai Abrams

Mel Magazine – May 27, 2020 – “‘On The Record’ Explores Who The #MeToo Conversation Left Behind — Women Of Color” by Tim Grierson // featuring Kirby Dick & Amy Ziering

Ms. Magazine – May 27, 2020 – “Black Women, Hip-Hop & #MeToo: ‘On the Record’ Spotlights Music Industry” by Janell Hobson // featuring Sil Lai Abrams, Drew Dixon, Sheri Sher

Rolling Out – May 27, 2020 – “Hip-hop artist Sheri Sher details cost Black women pay to reveal sexual assault” by Tony Binns // featuring Sheri Sher

Rolling Stone– May 27, 2020 – “‘On the Record’ Directors Talk Sexual Assault in Music Industry, Loss of Women’s Voices” by Breanna Ehrlich // featuring Kirby Dick & Amy Ziering

The Root – May 27, 2020 – “Drew Dixon, Sil Lai Abrams and Sheri Sher Go On the Record About Russell Simmons and Dismantling the Misogynoir System” by Tonja Renee Stidhum // featuring Sil Lai Abrams, Drew Dixon, Sheri Sher

Shondaland– May 27, 2020 – “’On the Record’ Allows Women in Hip Hop to Finally Have Their #MeToo Moment” By Candice Frederick // featuring Sil Lai Abrams, Drew Dixon, Sheri Sher

USA TODAY – May 27, 2020 – “He’s ‘a monster’: ‘On the Record’ gives first-hand accounts of Russell Simmons rape claims” by Patrick Ryan // featuring Sil Lai Abrams, Drew Dixon, Sheri Sher

VOX – May 27, 2020 – “‘We are correcting the erasure of black lives’: What On the Record’s subjects say about Me Too” by Alissa Wilkinson // featuring Sil Lai Abrams, Drew Dixon, Sheri Sher

Women’s Media Center – May 26, 2020 – “New #MeToo documentary gives voice to Russell Simmons accusers” by Carla Hay // featuring Kirby Dick, Drew Dixon, Amy Ziering

Reviews

ASSOCIATED PRESS – May 27, 2020 – “Review: A powerful #MeToo chapter in ‘On the Record’ doc” By Lindsey Bahr (rating: 3 out of 4 stars)

AWARDS CIRCUIT – May 26, 2020 – “Film Review: HBO Max’s ‘On The Record’ Gives a Megaphone to the Voices Often Sidelined in the #MeToo Movement” By LV Taylor (Positive)

THE CURVY FILM CRITIC– May 27, 2020 – “HBO’s On The Record Highlights Female Injustice Among Record Industry Exec (Review)” by Carla Renata (Positive)

DEADLINE– May 27, 2020 – “‘On The Record’ Review: HBO Max Launches With Riveting Music Biz Sexual Assault Documentary That Is A Must-See In The #MeToo Era” By Pete Hammond (Positive) **also sent as an email blast**

DECIDER – May 27, 2020 – “Multiple Women Accuse Russell Simmons of Sexual Assault in ‘On the Record’ on HBO Max” By Anna Menta (Positive)

FAST COMPANY – May 27, 2020 – “The controversial ‘On the Record’ documentary deftly tackles the complexities of #MeToo and intersectionality” By KC Ifeanyi (Positive)

FILM THREAT – May 26, 2020 – “On the Record” By By Sabina Dana Plasse (Rating: 10 out of 10)

MOTHER JONES – May 27, 2020 – “The New Russell Simmons Documentary Grapples With the Price Black Women Pay When They Accuse Their Own” By Jamila King (Positive)

THE NEW YORK TIMES – May 27, 2020 – “‘On the Record’ Review: A Black Woman’s View of #MeToo” By Devika Girish (Positive)

THE PLAYLIST – May 27, 2020 – “‘On The Record’ Is A Refreshingly Intersectional & Moving #MeToo Documentary [Review]” By Marshall Shaffer (Grade: B+)

ROLLING STONE – May 27, 2020 – “‘On the Record’ Review: Doc Gives Russell Simmons’ Accusers the Spotlight” By David Fear (Rating: 3 ½ out of 5 stars)

TIME – May 27, 2020 – “On the Record Hints at What’s Lost When Abuse Forces Women to Leave the Work They Love” By Stephanie Zacharek (Positive)

WASHINGTON POST– May 27, 2020 – “Russell Simmons sex assault documentary is an anguishing and essential film” By Ann Hornaday (Rating: 4 out of 4 stars)

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