There is an elegant, almost poetic silence in one of the most exciting scenes in “On the Record”, a powerful documentary on sexual violence that knows when to turn the volume down to calm silence.
In the dark morning of December 13, 2017, former music executive Drew Dixon walks to a coffee shop and buys the New York Times. The first page is the story in which she and two other women accuse hip hop magnate Russell Simmons, their former boss, of rape. Dixon examines the article, carefully folds the newspaper again, puts on a cotton hood to protect himself – and quietly tears down.
They are tears of fear of the ramifications of public speaking, but also tears of relief. It feels like a decades-old toxic secret is gushing out of her.
“That saved my life,” he says now about that decision.
On the Record, by Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering, presents a scathing and intimate portrait of the anguish of deciding whether to speak or not. Beyond that, it sheds light on the music industry, where sexual harassment “is simply an integral part of culture,” in the words of Sil Lai Abrams, another Simmons accuser who appears in the film.
And more importantly: it sheds light on women of color, and the particular and painful pressure they often suffer when they decide to speak.
Receive the latest news in Spanish Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning.
Subscribe to our newsletter
disclaimerText San Diego Union-Tribune in Spanish.
The project went through moments of controversy when Oprah Winfrey retired as an executive producer just before the Sundance Film Festival, foiling a distribution deal with Apple. Winfrey later acknowledged that Simmons had called her and lobbied her, although she noted that was not the reason she backed down.
Either way, the film went ahead and premiered at Sundance amid cheers and heartwarming cheers, and was quickly selected by the streaming service HBO Max, where it opens on Wednesday.
For Dixon, the vindication at Sundance was sweet.
“Standing there, alone, and realizing that we were enough,” she said in an interview last week with Abrams and prosecutor Sherri Hines at the premiere. “That our courage has been enough. That none of us wandered, none of us failed. That we were strong enough to defend ourselves and each other. “
Less than two years earlier, Dixon was overwhelmed by doubts. He anticipated that the film, which began filming before he decided to make a public statement, would be a general look at the #MeToo movement and the music industry. But then the directors wanted to focus more on their journey.
“The idea of being rejected by the black community was really scary,” she says. “But I also felt this pressure, this responsibility to be brave, to highlight the experience of black women as survivors. Maybe I wouldn’t have the chance again. ”
Dixon was in her twenties when she got her dream job at Simmons’ Def Jam Recordings label. The daughter of two politicians in Washington – her mother, Sharon Pratt, was mayor – she studied at Stanford University and later moved to New York to enter the exciting world of hip hop.
While gaining positions in Def Jam, he thought he would be immune to what he described as constant harassment by Simmons. He entered her office, locked the door, and was shown to her.
But it was not violent. Until one night in 1995 when, says Dixon, he made her go to her apartment with the excuse that she had to listen to a demo. Simmons told her to come into her bedroom to look for him, she says, and then she came in using only a condom, and raped her.
Simmons has denied all allegations of non-consensual sex.
The film weaves Dixon’s complaint with many others against Simmons, with key voices from women of color such as Tarana Burke, who founded the #MeToo movement, and law professor Kimberle Williams Crenshaw.
“A lot of black women felt disconnected from #MeToo initially,” says Burke. “They felt, ‘How wonderful that this sister is out there and we support her, but this movement is not for US.'”
When black women do seek to speak out, they risk not only being disbelieved, but being called traitors to their community, Burke and Dixon explain.
“There is an additional layer in the black community that we have to deal with, like, ‘Oh, are you going to put THIS before the race?'” Burke says. “‘You allowed that to happen to you, and now we have to pay for that as a race?’ And they shut us up even more.”
Dick and Ziering, who have made several films about sexual abuse, say they considered it essential to go beyond the current #MeToo discussion and focus on the experience of black women.
“Now one can speak out, but how about women of color? What are they dealing with? ”Asks Ziering. “There are too many impediments.”
For Dixon, speaking out clearly paid off. For Abrams it is more complicated. Even as the public applauded at Sundance, Abrams, who attempted suicide after Simmons’ alleged rape, was crying alongside his young adult son, worried about his reaction upon learning all the details for the first time.
Also “as a result of my complaint, my career has been paralyzed. Everything just dried up, “says Abrams.
Dixon says it remains to be seen whether she will be punished within the music industry. He says that he recently applied for a job, things seemed to be going well, and suddenly he did not know more. “They must have googled me,” he says.
But she feels that the most important thing is that she rescued a part of herself: her creativity, her drive, her sense of identity.
For more than 20 years, she says, “I had driven away the young woman who came to New York prepared to work really hard in a men’s game, to demonstrate that she could do it, without foreseeing that she was going to be raped.”
“In order to appease the pain I turned off some of its light,” he continues. “When I said it out loud, those parts of me flared up again.”
To any other survivor of abuse, who is waiting for it to come out, she says, “Coping with it frees up parts of you that you didn’t even know you missed.”