Oprah Winfrey Pulls Out of Kirby Dick-Amy Ziering #MeToo Documentary: 'I Feel It's Best to Step Aside'
Untitled film about Russell Simmons accuser yanked from Apple TV+ schedule, but will still premiere at Sundance: 'The film is a beacon of hope for voices that have long been suppressed'
Oprah Winfrey has pulled her name off the high profile Untitled Kirby Dick-Amy Ziering Documentary about minority women and the #MeToo movement, saying she doesn't think it's ready to premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in two weeks.
The film focuses on several African-American women who allege they were sexually abused or assaulted by powerful men in the music industry, but kept silent about it until the #MeToo movement took hold. The documentary's main character is former record executive Drew Dixon who accused hiphop mogul Russell Simmons of raping her in 1995. After Winfrey's role as executive producer of the film came to light, Simmons and rapper 50 Cent criticized her on social media.
"First and foremost, I want it to be known that I unequivocally believe and support the women," Winfrey insisted in a statement. "Their stories deserve to be told and heard. In my opinion, there is more work to be done on the film to illuminate the full scope of what the victims endured and it has become clear that the filmmakers and I are not aligned in that creative vision."
The statement continued, "Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering are talented filmmakers. I have great respect for their mission but given the filmmakers’ desire to premiere the film at the Sundance Film Festival before I believe it is complete, I feel it’s best to step aside."
The #MeToo experiences of Black women deserve to be heard, especially against powerful men, so we will continue with our plans to bring the film to The Sundance Film Festival.
Winfrey also said the documentary won't air on Apple TV+, where she has a production deal, as originally announced.
Dick and Ziering won acclaim for investigating sexual assault in the military in The Invisible War (2012) and the epidemic of rape on college campuses in The Hunting Ground (2015). After news of Winfrey's departure from the film came out, the filmmakers issued a statement of their own in which they say they are going forward with the Sundance premiere.
"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," Dick and Ziering wrote. "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.
"The #MeToo experiences of Black women deserve to be heard, especially against powerful men, so we will continue with our plans to bring the film to The Sundance Film Festival. This film, more than two years in the making, will be our eighth film to premiere at Sundance.
"The film is a beacon of hope for voices that have long been suppressed, and an inspiration for anyone wanting to regain their personal power.”
Sundance extols the film in its online catalogue.
"Untitled Kirby Dick/Amy Ziering Film is a gripping, complex study of race, gender, and the shared feelings of helplessness and terror that come from abuse," according to the festival program. "Through her bravery, Dixon inspired many previously silenced women to share their stories. These incredibly strong silence-breakers discuss their reluctance to add to the dangerous mythology and vilification of black men, resulting in their refusal to make those allegations public for decades. Untitled Kirby Dick/Amy Ziering Film is a well-needed impetus for broad positive change—not just in the music industry but throughout the world."
Dixon was an executive at Def Jam, the record label co-founded by Simmons. She told the New York Times in 2017 that Simmons sexually harassed her repeatedly during her time at the company, then raped her at her apartment in 1995. Three other women have accused Simmons of rape. In a statement to the New York Times for the 2017 article, Simmons wrote, "I vehemently deny all these allegations. These horrific accusations have shocked me to my core and all of my relations have been consensual.”
Matthew Carey is a documentary filmmaker and journalist. His work has appeared on Deadline.com, CNN, CNN.com, TheWrap.com, NBCNews.com and in Documentary magazine.