On Tuesday (Jan. 21), Oprah appeared on CBS This Morning with gal pal Gayle King to reveal this month’s book and decided to clear the air regarding her exit as executive producer on the documentary profiling four women who have accused former Def Jam mogul Russell Simmons of rape and sexual assault. While Oprah cites that creative differences were the real reason behind her departure, she made sure to note that it was in no way a win for Simmons.
”This is not a victory for Russell,” Oprah said. “I unequivocally say that I did not pull out because of Russell. This is not a victory lap for him. I cannot be silenced by a Russell Simmons after all I’ve been through.”
Winfrey explained it was “a hard decision” to step away from the film because she knew it could look like she was caving to pressure from Simmons, but that before he pressured her, she had expressed concerns to the filmmakers.
“I had said to them, ‘Houston, I think we have a problem here’ because new information had come forward,” Oprah continued. “I don’t care about awards — I just care about getting it right, and I think there’s some inconsistencies in the stories that we need to look at. I wanted the context of the story to be broadened, I wanted more women brought into the story.”
Although Simmons vehemently denies the allegations against him, his repost of his initial response to the release after the media mogul announced her withdrawal does seemingly attempt to put the emotional squeeze on her by utilizing their relationship as leverage to call her out, while appearing to clear his name.
“Dearest OPRAH, you have been a shining light to my family and my community. Contributing so much to my life that I couldn’t list a fraction of it in this blog.I have given you the gift of meditation and the groundbreaking book ”THE POWER OF NOW “we bonded to say the least,” Simmons wrote. “This is why it’s so troubling that you choose me to single out in your recent documentry. I have already admitted to being a playboy more (appropriately titled today “womanizer”) sleeping with and putting myself in more compromising situations than almost any man I know. Not 8 or 14 thousand like warren Beatty or Wilt Chamberlain, but still an embarrassing number. So many that some could reinterpret or reimagine a different recollection of the same experiences.”
Simmons goes on to state his objection to being publicly tried by highlighting the same reason that Oprah listed as her reason to withdraw—there weren’t enough women to tell their story and multiple facts were either overlooked or ignored.
“Your doc is focused on 3 hand chosen women. I have refused to get in the mud with any accusers, but let’s acknowledge what i have shared. I have taken and passed nine 3-hour lie detector tests (taken for my daughters), that these stories have been passed on by CNN, NBC, BUZZFEED, NY POST, NY MAG, AND OTHERS. Now that you have reviewed the facts and you SHOULD have learned what I know; that these stories are UNUSABLE and that “hurt people hurt people”. “
Simmons also accused producers of the documentary of trying to use past unfaithful behavior and words to his exes against him to make the documentary more salacious.
“I received a call from an old girlfriend from the early 1980s which means that they are using my words/evidence against me and their COMMITMENT/ (all of the claims are 25 to 40 years old),” Simmons said. “It is impossible to prove what happened 40 years ago, but in my case PROOF EXISTS of what didn’t happen, mostly signed letters from their own parents, siblings, roommates, band members, interns, and in the case of 2 of your 3 accusers,their own words in their books. Shocking how many people have misused this important powerful revolution for relevance and money. … In closing, I am guilty of exploiting, supporting, and making the soundtrack for a grossly unequal society, i have even been unconsciously callous , but i have never been violent or forced myself on anyone.”
While Oprah admitted during the interview that the decision to pull away was tough, she states she learned a valuable lesson when it comes to producing projects this sensitive in nature.
“I have lived #MeToo since I was 9 years old, and was raped at 9, sexually assaulted from 9 to 14, and then raped again at 14,” Oprah said. “And nothing is harder than standing up for yourself when you’re 14 and not being believed, and I was not believed by my own family. So I stand in support of these women. I believe them. What this has taught me is, don’t put your name on anything that you do not have creative control over.”
A sentiment she learned from friend and director Ava DuVernay, who states that she received an email to preview the doc; and also confirmed that Oprah was receiving pressure from Simmons to back out.
”It was harsh. 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,” DuVernay said. “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.”
Even though Oprah took time to set the record straight on her reasoning to leave, one things fans noticed she didn’t address was the overwhelming concern that Oprah seemingly exposes Black celebrities for personal gain, while ignoring their white counterparts who are experiencing the same allegations or worse.
“What a joke. So Oprah could pay attention to “inconsistencies” in this instace, but not in Leaving Neverland? That “documentary” was full of lies and proven falsehoods. Yet she still endorsed it,” one Twitter user wrote.
Which is a fair question, over the years Oprah has been called out for her seemingly brazen attitude towards Black celebrities. From her interaction with Toni Braxton when she was overcoming her bankruptcy after a shoddy record deal to her triggering interview with comedienne Monique’s family, after it was requested for her not to do so; Oprah has undeniably done some underhanded things to Black celebrities.
While this does not negate her contributions to Black culture and strides she’s created in entertainment, it is time that we have a real discussion about her love affair with problematic celebrities and her brazen approach to the Black celebrities in their time of need rationally without allowing adoration or lack thereof to get in the way. It’s time that we examine the celebrities the same way we do our friends, if they don’t have our best interest as a whole in mind, maybe we shouldn’t support it.
Check out Oprah’s full response below.