Oprah Winfrey has ditched her role as executive producer on an upcoming documentary featuring a former music exec who claims she suffered sexual harassment and abuse at the hands of music icon Russell Simmons.
The untitled Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering documentary, which was set to premiere at the Sundance Film Festival next month, is also being pulled from its AppleTV+ distribution, Deadline and other outlets have reported. Winfrey’s Harpo Productions has a content distribution deal with AppleTV+, so her withdrawal from the documentary project left the film with no access to the streaming platform.
Winfrey addressed her sudden departure in a statement Friday.
“I have decided that I will no longer be executive producer on ‘The Untitled Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering Documentary’ and it will not air on Apple TV+,” she wrote. “First and foremost, I want it to be known [that] I unequivocally believe and support the women. Their stories deserve to be told and heard.”
Winfrey’s decision to step away from the film reportedly stemmed from creative differences between herself, Dick and Ziering, whom she lauded as “talented filmakers.” Still, the media mogul argued the project needs more work in order to “illuminate the full scope of what the victims endured, and it has become clear the filmmakers and I aren’t aligned in that creative vision.”
Although she’s stepping aside from this project, Winfrey said she’ll continue working with the Time’s Up and #MeToo movements to support victims of sexual assault or abuse.
The 65-year-old and friend of Simmons faced immediate backlash amid news of her involvement in the film. Simmons himself said he found it “troubling” that Winfrey would choose to single him out in the forthcoming doc.
“Dearest OPRAH, you have been a shining light to my family and my community, contributing so much to my life that I could not list a fraction of it in this blog,” the rap mogul wrote in a lengthy Instagram post last month. “I’ve given you the gift of meditation and the groundbreaking book ‘THE POWER OF NOW.’ We bonded to say the least.”
Rapper 50 Cent also weighed in on the controversy, blasting Winfrey for what he deemed as singling out Black men who’ve been accused of sex crimes.
News of the media mogul’s departure sparked a number of reactions online.
“Felt that pressure huh?” an Instagram user wrote.
“I feel like Oprah always has a hidden agenda,” another chimed in.
Others said they still haven’t forgiven Winfrey for her role in amplifying the message of a controversial doc that highlighted sexual molestation claims made against late pop star Michael Jackson.
“Oprah Ain’t For Us Anyway ,” one critic said, while another said “she secretly hates black men.”
Over a dozen women have accused Simmons of sexual assault, claims he denies, saying, “All of my relations have been consensual.”
The upcoming Dick and Ziering doc will focus on “a brilliant former music executive who grapples with whether to go public with her story of assault and abuse by a notable figure in the music industry,” that person allegedly being Simmons. The exec, Drew Dixon, used to work at Def Jam, the label co-founded by Simmons, and claims he raped her in his NYC apartment in 1995.
Dixon’s “career and personal life have been deeply affected by the abuse she faced from the men she admired in the industry she loves,” according to a description of the doc.
Simmons, now 62, admitted to being a “womanizer” in his heyday but denies ever forcing himself on anyone.
“Shocking how many people have misused this important powerful revolution for relevance and money,” he wrote. “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.”
While the disputed doc is out at Apple TV+, it will still premiere in Park City, Utah, on Jan. 25 at the Sundance Festival.