ON THE RECORD
(director/writer: Kirby Dick/Amy Ziering; screenwriter: Sara Newens; cinematographers: Ava Berkovsky/Thaddeus Wadleigh; editor: Sara Newens; music: Terence Blanchard/Willa Yudell; cast: Sil Lai Abrams, Tarana Burke, Kimberle Crenshaw, Drew Dixon, Joan Morgan, Kierna Mayo, Jenny Lumet; Runtime: 95; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Kirby Dick/Amy Ziering/Amy Herdy/Jamie Rogers; HBO Max; 2020)
“It’s a topical film, well-executed in a fair way, that’s relevant.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering (The Hunting Ground, The Invisible War) are the muckracking co-directors and co-writers of this controversial documentary (Oprah resigned as executive producer over murky reasons) about a black female music executive accusing the black hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons of rape. Sarah Newens is also a writer of this haunting story.
The rape victim Drew Dixon, one of many accusers, is the one the film focuses on. The Stanford grad is the daughter of a former Washington, D.C mayor, Sharon Pratt. In the early nineties, Drew, a lover of hip-hop, got an A&R job at Def Jam Records. The talented executive was one of the first to report that the Notorious B.I.G. was a talent to watch. Drew was a big fan of Russell Simmons, Def Jam’s co-founder, whose nickname is “the godfather of rap.”
Drew was able to rebuff the lecher’s advances until one evening after a business dinner when she played a demo for him in her place, she alleges Simmons violently sexually assaulted her. She was the first to bring charges against him, charges he denies. But since then there are numerous black women who say he assaulted them, like 20. They include the likes of Sil Lai Abrams (model), Kierna Mayo (Ebony editor), Kimberle Williams Crenshaw (law professor), Sherri Hines (hip-hop artist), Jenny Lumet (writer), Tarana Burke (activist), and all the others.
In this disturbing film Drew, in the age of the #MeToo generation, was the first to go public with charges, which are denied by Simmons as seen in this film. After leaving Simmons she worked for Arista, but left the industry after continued harassment by Simmons and the new Arista chief L.A. Reid.
It’s a gripping film that examines how sexual abuse affects race, genders, jobs and society at large. It’s a topical film, well-executed in a fair way, that’s relevant. To its credit, the movie is not shy when it comes to being graphic about the assaults. It’s not easy to hear how traumatized Drew is by her bitter experience and is no longer a fan of the music, as her talents are squandered by the seemingly sexual predatory nature of the rap music industry. She deserves to be heard, and this film provides her the opportunity. I believed her.
REVIEWED ON 6/11/2020 GRADE: B