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Film Review: “On the Record”

Written by: Victoria Alexander | June 9th, 2020

Film poster: “On the Record”

On November 17, 2016, The New York Times heralded it’s article on Russell Simmons with the sobriquet “The Yoga King Of Los Angeles.” Only an expensive PR machine could deliver a Times piece about the newest enterprise of Russell Simmons, his Yoga studio, Tantris. The Times reported that Tantris would be “an 8,000-square-foot studio that offers amenities like pH-balanced showers, valet parking, a juice bar, a lounge with city views and a boutique that carries Mr. Simmons’s new activewear collection — is the culmination of the 59-year-old mogul’s obsession with yoga.”

Simmons’s achievements – entrepreneur, record executive, writer, film producer, co-founder of Def Jam Records, and creator of several clothing fashion lines and friend of Oprah  – just wasn’t enough to keep the Simmons brand in the public eye. All I knew about Russell Simmons was his carefully crafted spiritual persona and vegetarianism. It is also important to note that his net worth was said to be $340 million in 2011.

Film Image: ON THE RECORD
A still from ON THE RECORD by Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering, an official selection of the Documentary Premieres program at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Martyna Starosta.

Now on HBOMAX, ON THE RECORD, puts Russell Simmons’s head on the “# MeToo” block. Apparently, Simmons’s sexual appetite for raping unwilling women who worked for him was a major aphrodisiac.

Directors Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering’s documentary, ON THE RECORD, highlights former Simmons’s executive Drew Dixon. The number of women who have come forward is too many to be deemed “disgruntled former employees”.

Simmons’s good pal Oprah Winfrey, a champion of women, was an “executive producer” on the documentary and had guaranteed the film’s distribution through an overall sweetheart streaming deal with Apple. But when the accusations regarding Simmons’s treatment of women gained currency, Winfrey left over vague “inconsistencies” in the accounts of rape and assault against Simmons.

Simmons primary accuser, Drew Dixon, worked her way through the music business to become an A&R  executive at Def Jam Records and Arista. Highly attractive and charismatic, Dixon recounts her rise, business relationships and successes. Dixon probably had plenty of admirers. She wasn’t interested in Simmons, regardless of his power and wealth. When Dixon left Def Jam Records and worked for L.A. Reid, his fury over her lack of interest in him sexually expressed itself in humiliating her in front of staff and making her role at the company meaningless.

‘On the Record’ was to have helped launch an AppleTV+ docuseries called ‘Toxic Workplace,’ about sexual misconduct in working environments. Apple has now pulled the plug on the series.   

Six other women also publicly come forward to describe the sexual abuse they suffered by knowing Russell Simmons. This documentary clearly shows that black women are also targets of unwanted sexual activity. They also highlight the gross sexualization of women by hip-hop music. Whoever can “twerk” the fastest and have the biggest “booty” gets to be in the music video crowd scene.

Film Image: ON THE RECORD
A still from ON THE RECORD by Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering, an official selection of the Documentary Premieres program at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Omar Mullick.

Instead of watching Dixon getting her hair coiffed and walking around Brooklyn, I would have wanted her to talk more about who Russell Simmons was. Had she heard rumors about him? Was he generally demeaning to women? Was he always involved in the casting of “video vixens”?

What is not explored and is desperately needed, is the answer to the viewers question: “Why?” Simmons, like the Monster Of Miramax, certainly had the money for prostitutes. Also like Harvey Weinstein, he was in a position to choose a willing video extra who he could have sex with as payback. So why pick on women who weren’t interested?

Because ON THE RECORD could not get Simmons or Reid to give their strong denials on camera, were there no former employees or former friends who could give us some understanding of the behavior?

I do not know Simmons or Reid and have no experience with rape. But due to the lack of explanation by the principals, I offer the following reasons for the behavior. Were these men subjected to sexual humiliation, aggression and had to compromise themselves to get to their lofty positions? Are they getting even? Did Simmons just consider Dixon lucky to be at Def Jam without having to pay any sexual dues? Did he feel entitled to having her sexually available to him whenever he wanted? As Dixon admits, and perhaps those women who came after her, regarded her value to the company meant she was on equal footing with Simmons and he resented it?

If only Weinstein had taken a different tack at his trial. I would have compelled, by subpoena, a hundred women who got a walk-on part in a Miramax movie by voluntarily going to his suite. I would have had casting agents, talent agents and managers admit that they all knew what getting a part in a film entailed.

I would have had Weinstein admit that sex is the “coin of the realm” and everyone knows it. And if Weinstein needed to force himself on a woman, that was the scenario he required. Wasn’t anyone wise to him?

This of course does not address the fact that men like Simmons and Weinstein need to humiliate and force women to have sex with them. Weinstein knew he was ugly but that made it even more gratifying to him. He won. For decades, his unwilling conquests would publicly smile and flirt with him. What they would never have done  – have sex with him – he made them do. That’s true power – making someone do what they do not want to do.

The public expose through the # MeToo movement has hopefully altered behavior, but I doubt it. There are rumors that NDA’s and other legal papers are in place for even casual one-night stands.

Fame, power and wealth are usually accumulated by ruthless, immoral behavior. Zuckerberg and Jobs come quickly to mind. Making other people suffer must in some way alleviate the nagging, always present guilt. As in, distribute small shards of the guilt to others lessens the weight one must carry. Or maybe it’s just this simple, “I’m powerful and it’s a right I’ve earned.”

Cast: Drew Dixon, Si Lai Abrams, Jenny Lumet, Tarana Burke, Kierna Mayo, Joan Morgan, Kimberle Williams Crenshaw
Directors: Kirby Dick, Amy Ziering
Writers: Kirby Dick, Amy Ziering, Sara Newens
Producers: Jamie Rogers, Amy Herdy, Kirby Dick, Amy Ziering
Director of photography: Ava Berkofsky, Thaddeus Wadleigh
Editor: Sara Newens
Composer: Terence Blanchard
Music: Willa Yudell

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Member of Las Vegas Film Critics Society: www.lvfcs.org/. Victoria Alexander lives in Las Vegas, Nevada, and answers every email at victoria.alexander.lv@gmail.com. For a complete list of Victoria Alexander's movie reviews on Rotten Tomatoes go to: https://www.rottentomatoes.com/critic/victoria-alexander/movies. Victoria Alexander contributes to Films in Review (http://www.filmsinreview.com), Film Festival Today (http://filmfestivaltoday.com) and Las Vegas Informer (LVInformer.com).

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