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Russell Simmons Accusers and ‘On the Record’ Filmmakers Hope for ‘Reconciliation’ With Oprah Winfrey (Video)

Sundance 2020: ”We never would’ve made this film without people of color involved behind the scenes as well,“ co-director Amy Ziering says

The subjects of “On the Record,” a documentary detailing multiple accusations of sexual misconduct by music mogul Russell Simmons, said that Oprah Winfrey’s decision earlier this month to pull out as an executive producer created its own form of trauma. But now that the film has premiered at Sundance, they and the filmmakers hope that they can reach some “reconciliation” with Winfrey.

Drew Dixon, Sherri Hines and Sil Lai Abrams were joined by directors Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering at TheWrap Studio in Sundance to  explain how the flurry of attention the film received leading up to its Sundance bow made them feel silenced all over again. But now that the film has been well-received by critics and audiences at the fest, they’re ready to move past the drama.

“She loved it until she didn’t. On our end, we’re grateful. We never would’ve made this film without people of color involved behind the scenes as well,” Ziering told TheWrap’s Sharon Waxman. “We do hope there’s some sort of reconciliation. We would welcome that,” Dick added.

“On the Record” follows Dixon, Hines and Abrams as they struggle with the decision to come forward about their accusations of rape and sexual misconduct against Def Jam Records founder Russell Simmons (Simmons has denied all accusations of nonconsensual sex). The directors stress that it’s not a film about Simmons but about the victims, and it takes an unconventional approach to the usual way of telling survivor’s confessional stories, giving black women in particular who have been marginalized and erased from the #MeToo conversation a chance to speak out.

When Winfrey pulled her support from the film earlier this month, removing her name as executive producer and saying that it wasn’t ready to premiere at Sundance, some criticized her for not giving black women a voice.

“First it was overwhelming, hurtful, it was like living that virus, that started back all over again back in your system,” Hines said. “You’re doing this again, this is just happening again, and you’re just feeling silenced again.”

It cut even deeper because Winfrey had previously thrown her support behind another documentary featuring accusers of another black music legend, Michael Jackson and the film “Leaving Neverland.”

“What transpired with Oprah, it’s her prerogative to make her choice. Was I disappointed, yes, was I shocked, no. Given the push back in the black community on the heels of ‘Leaving Neverland,’ it did not come as a surprise. But in speaking about Oprah, I feel that it takes away from the importance of this film of the fact that we are sitting here with the privilege and honor of talking to you,” Abrams said. “But I believe that the film does justice to the issue of the suppression of black women’s voices around sexual violence and our experiences and how we have been marginalized and erased from #MeToo, and I’m very grateful to be here because it is a privilege.”

The film follows Dixon most closely, and she’s been involved with Dick and Ziering for two years, even before she went on the record to the New York Times with her accusation of rape against Simmons (Simmons has denied all accusations of non-consensual sex). This back and forth between the filmmakers and subjects and Winfrey within the last few weeks weighed additionally heavily on her, just as she was ready to start a new chapter of her life.

“I feel like I’ve been on the operating table for two years with this wound that I couldn’t close because the film sort of kept me in that space,” Dixon said. “Once I knew the film was accepted into Sundance, that felt like a finish line finally, and I couldn’t wait to cross it so I could and exhale and the doctor could sew up the patient and I could go home, and so the feeling that the hospital was suddenly on fire all around 15 days before I was going to leave the operating room is its own trauma.”

Everyone agreed though that the premiere offered a beautiful next step forward for their stories and the conversation in sexual violence

“It was amazing the response we got. I’m still feeling, I don’t know if you understand, but being silenced, and having that virus for so long, and carrying it and being able to release it,” Hines said.

“In respect to what happened at the premiere it was transcendent. I did not know what to expect. It was very emotional. I cried,” Abrams said.

“The premiere last night, feeling like we were safe, the film was safe, our stories were safe, and this conversation would continue and that it was well received in the room was a relief I can’t even really put into words,” Dixon added.

Watch a clip of TheWrap’s interview with the subjects of “On the Record” above.