AceShowbiz - Oprah Winfrey didn't quit a documentary about Russell Simmons accusers because of pressure from the record executive. In an interview published by The New York Times on Friday, January 17, the former daytime talk show queen acknowledges the co-founder of Def Jam Recordings tried to push her into abandoning the film, but in the end it's her own concern that led to her decision to cut ties with the project.
"He did reach out multiple times and attempted to pressure me," says the media mogul. She tells the site that Russell's attempt to block the movie "involved an intense campaign by Mr. Simmons and his supporters to get Ms. Winfrey to pull the plug. That campaign also targeted some of the women in the film on social media and, in at least one case, through direct contact with a family member, in what the women viewed as attempts to threaten and intimidate them ahead of the film's premiere at Sundance, still scheduled for Jan. 25."
But Oprah refused to be pressured by Russell. "I told him directly in a phone call that I will not be pressured either into, or out of, backing this film," she says of her reaction to his campaign. "I am only going to do what I believe to be the right thing."
The 65-year-old actress/television producer explains that there were some issues with the film, including inconsistencies in the accuser Drew Dixon's story about her interactions with Russell. Oprah, however, says that she still believes, though she was troubled by "inconsistencies in her account that the film had not adequately addressed."
Oprah also sought advice from a friend and filmmaker Ava DuVernay about the film. She sent the documentary to the "Selma" director and asked her if filmmakers Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering, who are both white, captured the nuances of hip-hop culture and the struggles of black women. Ava gave a harsh critique on the matter, which also led to Oprah's decision to drop out of the movie.
Ava backs up Oprah's claim that she made a tough decision to quit the documentary, telling the Times, "She's got Simmons on one side pressuring her, and then she's got a film on the other side that she doesn't agree with. So if she walks away from the film she seems like she's caving to Simmons, and if she stays with the film then she's putting her name on something that she feels doesn't quite hit the mark."
Oprah's longtime best friend Gayle King said a similar thing about what led Oprah to made the decision. "I know this was a very stressful and very difficult decision for her to take her name off because she knows that her taking her name off because, as you point out, Russell has done a very public and very private campaign to convince her, she knows that the message that sends is that maybe she was muzzled. Nothing can be further from the case," she stressed.
The documentary, now called "On the Record", will have its premiere at Sundance Film Festival on January 25 and is currently looking for a distributor after Oprah canceled plans to stream it on Apple TV+.