‘On the Record’: For Russell Simmons’ Accusers, the Film’s Release Is Met with Mixed Feelings

Directed and produced by Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering (“The Hunting Ground”), “On the Record” presents the powerful story of high-ranking music executive Drew Dixon (collaborator on hit records by Method Man and Mary J. Blige, Estelle and Kanye West, and Whitney Houston) as she grapples with her decision to become one of the first women of color in the wake of #MeToo to come forward and publicly accuse hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons of sexual assault.

The documentary, which premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival to rave reviews, chronicles not only Dixon’s story but that of other accusers: Sil Lai Abrams, an activist and author who also worked at Def Jam, and Sheri Sher of pioneering all-female hip-hop group Mercedes Ladies. It delves deeply into the ways women of colors’ voices are all too often silenced and ignored when they allege sexual assault — as well as the cultural forces that pressure them to remain silent.

The documentary arrives on HBO Max on May 27 — the same day the streaming service launches — and for its three main subjects, it’s a kind of bittersweet moment: relief that it will finally be seen by a wider audience, and anxiety caused by the uncertainty of what will be the general reaction.

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“It’s a mix of feelings,” said Dixon, who alleges then-boss Simmons raped her at his New York home in 1995. “I’m excited that we’re crossing the starting line, hopefully for our conversation that is really long overdue, about the vulnerability of black women, in particular, when it comes to sexual violence. But I’ve been dreading this moment from the second I agreed to do it, because just the emotional impact of going public three years ago, was much greater than I anticipated. So I’m very weary of underestimating what the emotional impact of the film reaching a broader audience could be.”

Abrams, who alleges that Simmons raped her in 1994, is most concerned about her family members, and feels somewhat paralyzed by the moment. “I’m kind of numb about it, because it’s been such an overwhelming experience,” she said. “The process of getting to market was a very complicated one, and the subject matter is painful, because you’re revisiting trauma and exposing a part of you that, even some family members didn’t know about. And so I really am just kind of suspended in time.”

For Sher, it’s a continuation of a journey that began 14 years ago, when she revealed details of her alleged rape in a 2006 book based on her life titled “Mercedes Ladies.” “It was rough, a lot of emotions, a lot of healing inside that needed to happen, fear, and things that had held me back from being my greatest self,” she said. “But now, it’s a relief, and it’s just the time for the film to be out, and I hope it actually lets people know their worth, and to not be afraid to fight the giant.”

Simmons has denied all allegations, and declined requests to be interviewed for the film.

Dixon, Abrams, and Sher all had their own reasons to initially keep quiet about their allegations, but Simmons’ reach in the black community was a key factor, in addition to what he meant as a pioneer in the hip-hop subculture. As black women, they also wrestled with their own societal expectations.

“One is never fully prepared for what it is like to Google yourself and to see all of your accomplishments as an individual erased because now I’m known as one of Russell Simmons’ victims,” Abrams said. “And to have that erasure of my core identity as a woman and as a business person, is very troubling.”

The documentary was a subject of controversy when it lost Oprah Winfrey as its executive producer ahead of its Sundance premiere because the mogul felt it needed more reporting. Winfrey’s exit was disappointing and deeply worrying for Dixon, Abrams and Sher, because the film not only lost the support of a very powerful figure, but also lost its distributor, Apple TV+. The idea that the film might not see the light of day was terrifying.

“In some ways her exit was an incredibly important transformational moment for us because it felt like the floor just disappeared, right before the already scary premiere at Sundance,” Dixon said. “But we caught each other kind of in mid-air, and we stood up for ourselves. And I learned that my story is about me not needing to hide behind this famous, powerful person. I’m incredibly grateful to her that she believed in us. But I’m also gratified that I found the strength in myself I didn’t know I had.”

In hindsight, Abrams sees it as a silver lining to a terribly dark cloud, because the press that the film received ahead of Sundance when Winfrey pulled out generated a tremendous amount of interest and anticipation. “I think the most important thing that she did was to say that she believes the survivors, and had that not been the case, I might feel differently,” she said.

The documentary still premiered at Sundance to standing ovations. Critics heaped lavish praise on it, including IndieWire’s Eric Kohn, who called it “a smart and sturdy behind-the-scenes look at a high-profile #MeToo drama.”

Although for Sher, watching the film during the premiere was a shock — she saw herself be vulnerable in a way that she wasn’t expecting. “I’m just a person that never likes to show weakness, and when I see myself in the film and I look at the pain that I was displaying that finally came out, I didn’t know how to feel,” she said. “Because in a way, I wanted to show him that I’m still standing, that I’m still doing things. I wanted to show him my accomplishments that I have done behind all of this pain, without using his name and could have.”

Ultimately, all three women hope that when audiences watch “On the Record,” they understand it is not just about the music industry, but about the plight of black women, irrespective of socioeconomic status, caught in a double bind between feeling compelled to protect the black community while also needing to tell their truths without being ostracized by that community.

“I think women are going to have to fight this toxic patriarchy for a very long time, but doubly so for black woman, because you’re at the back of the #MeToo bus,” Dixon said. “So it was very important to me that I get on the bus as a black woman so that we didn’t miss our moment. Then, I try to move to the front, at least for the 90 minutes of this film, that we shine a light on the unique obstacles that we face. I’m just so grateful that HBO Max stepped up and that we are going to find an audience. I’m really just bracing for impact, because I hope it’s well received. It’s hard when you’re taking on the status quo. You do not know how people will react.”

“On the Record” premieres on HBO Max on Wednesday, May 27.

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Here's Everything Coming to HBO Max in June 2020

Need something to watch next month? HBO Max has plenty of options. 

With the launch of the latest streaming service (and new home of Friends) set for May 27, fans can add another TV and movie destination to their entertainment arsenal just in time to kick off a new month. And, while the coronavirus pandemic wages on, it’s coming just in time to help make social distancing a bit more fun. 

Judging by the lengthy list of titles, you won’t be bored. The finales of Insecure Season 4 and I Know This Much Is True as well as the premiere of the I’ll Be Gone in the Dark docuseries are just a few of the many highly anticipated drops on HBO Max for June, as are an array of beloved films, from Splendor in the Grass to Magic Mike and Elf. And, as its own platform, HBO Max is also set to debut more of its own original programming, including the kids reality competition show, Karma

Needless to say, all that’s left for you to do is grab a blanket and a bowl of popcorn and press play. 

For the complete list of what’s coming to HBO Max in June, just keep scrolling!

Available June 1

4th & Forever: Muck City: Season One

Adventures In Babysitting, 1987 (HBO)

Amelie, 2001 (HBO)

An American Werewolf in London, 1981 (HBO)

The American, 2010 (HBO)

Another Cinderella Story, 2008

Beautiful Girls, 1996 (HBO)

Black Beauty, 1994

Bridget Jones’s Baby, 2016

The Bucket List, 2007

Cabaret, 1972

The Champ, 1979

Chicago, 2002

A Cinderella Story, 2004

A Cinderella Story: Once Upon a Song, 2011

Clash Of The Titans, 2010

Cradle 2 the Grave, 2003

Crash, 2005 (Director’s Cut) (HBO)

Doubt, 2008 (HBO)

Dreaming Of Joseph Lees, 1999 (HBO)

Drop Dead Gorgeous, 1999

Dune, 1984 (HBO)

Elf, 2003

Enter The Dragon, 1973

Far and Away, 1992 (HBO)

Final Destination, 2000

Final Destination 2, 2003

Final Destination 3, 2006

The Final Destination, 2009

Firewall, 2006

Flipped, 2010

Forces of Nature, 1999 (HBO)

The Fountain, 2006 (HBO)

Frantic, 1988

From Dusk Til Dawn, 1996

Full Metal Jacket, 1987

Gente De Zona: En Letra De Otro, 2018 (HBO)

The Good Son, 1993 (HBO)

The Goonies, 1985

Hanna, 2011 (HBO)

Havana, 1990 (HBO)

He Got Game, 1998 (HBO)

Heaven Can Wait, 1978

Heidi, 2006

Hello Again, 1987 (HBO)

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, 2012

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, 2013

The Hunger, 1983

In Her Shoes, 2005 (HBO)

In Like Flint, 1967 (HBO)

The Iron Giant, 1999

It Takes Two, 1995

Juice, 1992

The Last Mimzy, 2007

License To Wed, 2007

Life, 1999 (HBO)

Lifeforce, 1985 (HBO)

Lights Out, 2016 (HBO)

Like Water For Chocolate, 1993 (HBO)

Looney Tunes: Back in Action, 2003

The Losers, 2010

Love Jones, 1997

Lucy, 2020 (HBO)

Magic Mike, 2012

McCabe and Mrs. Miller, 1971

Misery, 1990

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, 2008 (HBO)

A Monster Calls, 2016 (HBO)

Mr. Wonderful, 1993 (HBO)

Must Love Dogs, 2005

My Dog Skip, 2000

Mystic River, 2003

The Neverending Story II: The Next Chapter, 1991

The Neverending Story, 1984

New York Minute, 2004

Nights In Rodanthe, 2008

No Reservations, 2007

Ordinary People, 1980

Our Man Flint, 1966 (HBO)

The Parallax View, 1974

Patch Adams, 1998 (HBO)

A Perfect World, 1993

Pedro Capo: En Letra Otro, 2017 (HBO)

Personal Best, 1982

Presumed Innocent, 1990

Ray, 2004 (HBO)

Richie Rich, 1994

Rosewood, 1997

Rugrats Go Wild, 2003

Running on Empty, 1988

Secondhand Lions, 2003

She’s The Man, 2006 (HBO)

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, 2011 (HBO)

Space Cowboys, 2000

Speed Racer, 2008

Splendor in the Grass, 1961

The Stepfather, 1987 (HBO)

Summer Catch, 2001

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, 1990

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2, 1991

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 3, 1993

Tess, 1980 (HBO)

Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride, 2005

The Time Traveler’s Wife, 2009

Titanic, 1997

TMNT, 2007

Torch Song Trilogy, 1988

Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie, 1997 (HBO)

Tweety’s High-Flying Adventures, 2000

U-571, 2000 (HBO)

U.S. Marshals, 1998

Unaccompanied Minors, 2006

Uncle Buck, 1989 (HBO)

Veronica Mars, 2014

Walking and Talking, 1996 (HBO)

We Are Marshall, 2006

Weird Science, 1985 (HBO)

When Harry Met Sally, 1989

Wild Wild West, 1999

Wonder, 2019 (HBO)

X-Men: First Class, 2011 (HBO)

You’ve Got Mail, 1998

Available June 2

Inside Carbonaro, Season One (TruTV)

HBO

Available June 4

HBO First Look: The King of Staten Island (HBO)

We’re Here, Season Finale (HBO)

Available June 5

Betty, Season Finale (HBO)

Available June 6

Ad Astra, 2019 (HBO)

Yvonne Orji: Momma, I Made It! (HBO)

Available June 7

I May Destroy You, Series Premiere (HBO)

Available June 10

Infinity Train, Season 2 Premiere

Available June 12

El asesino de los caprichos (AKA The Goya Murders), 2020 (HBO)

Available June 13

The Good Liar, 2019 (HBO)

Available June 14

I Know This Much Is True, Limited Series Finale (HBO)

Insecure, Season 4 Finale (HBO)

HBO

Available June 16

#GeorgeWashington, 2017

Age of Big Cats, Season One

Ancient Earth, Season One

Apocalypse: WWI, Season One

Big World in A Small Garden, 2016

The Celts: Blood, Iron & Sacrifice, Season One

Cornfield Shipwreck, 2019

The Daunting Fortress of Richard the Lionheart, 2019

David Attenborough’s Ant Mountain, 2016

David Attenbourough’s Light on Earth, 2016

DeBugged, 2018

Digits, Season One

Dragons & Damsels, 2019

Ebony: The Last Years of The Atlantic Slave Trade, 2016

Expedition: Black Sea Wrecks, Season One

First Man, 2017

Going Nuts: Tales from Squirrel World, 2019

Hack the Moon: Unsung Heroes of Apollo, 2019

The History of Food, Season One

Hurricane the Anatomy, Season One, 2018

Into the Lost Crystal Caves, 2016

Jason Silva: Transhumanism, 2016

King: A Filmed Record… Montgomery to Memphis (Part 1 & Part 2), Season One

Knuckleball!, 2019

Leonardo: The Mystery of The Lost Portrait, 2018

Looney Tunes (Batch 2), Season One

Man’s First Friend, 2018

Penguin Central, 2019

Pompeii: Disaster Street, 2020

Popeye (Batch 2), Season One

Pyramids Builders: New Clues, 2019

Realm of the Volga, Season One

Sacred Spaces, Season One

Scandalous: The Untold Story of the National Enquirer, Documentary Premiere (CNN)

Scanning the Pyramids, 2018

Science vs. Terrorism, Season One

The Secret Lives of Big Cats, Season One

Secret Life of Lakes, Season One

Secret Life Underground, Season One

Secrets of the Solar System, Season One

Space Probes!, Season One

Speed, Season One

Spies of War , Season One

Tales of Nature, Season One

Tsunamis: Facing a Global Threat, 2020

Versailles Rediscovered: The Sun King’s Vanished Palace, 2019

Viking Women, Season One

Vitamania, 2018

Whale Wisdom, 2019

The Woodstock Bus, 2019

Merrick Morton/Twentieth Century Fox

Available June 18

Summer Camp Island, Season 2 Premiere

Karma, Series Premiere

Available June 19 

Bully. Coward. Victim. The Story of Roy Cohn, Documentary Premiere (HBO)

Entre Nos: The Winners (HBO)

Bajo el mismo techo (AKA Under the Same Roof), 2020 (HBO)

Available June 20 

Ford V. Ferrari, 2019 (HBO)

Available June 21

Perry Mason, Limited Series Premiere (HBO)

Available June 22

Hard, Series Finale (HBO)

Available June 24

South Park, Seasons 1-23

Transhood, Documentary Premiere (HBO)

Available June 25

Adventure Time Distant LandsBMO, Special Premiere

Doom Patrol, Season 2 Premiere

Esme & Roy, Season 2A Premiere

Search Party, Season 3 Premiere

Available June 26

Hormigas (AKA The Awakening of the Ants), 2020

Available June 27

Doctor Sleep (Director’s Cut), 2020 (HBO)

Available June 28

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, Docuseries Premiere (HBO)

Available June 30

Welcome to Chechnya, Documentary Premiere (HBO)

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Seth Rogen’s ‘An American Pickle’ Movie Gets HBO Max Premiere Date

An American Pickle, the Seth Rogen-starring comedy that moved from Sony Pictures to HBO Max, has lined up an August 6 release date on WarnerMedia’s streaming service. The pic, from Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s Point Grey Pictures, will world premiere as the first HBO Max original film under the Warner Max movie label.

The premiere date came Wednesday as HBO Max unveiled a second wave of programming for the summer that will follow the initial titles available for the platform’s May 27 launch.

WarnerMedia acquired global rights to American Pickle on April 27 from Sony, which had planned a 2020 theatrical release for it before the coronavirus shutdown, after which the Culver City studio was forced to shift most of the pics on its feature slate to 2021. It was won of several mid-sized films sold off to to streaming platforms amid the COVID-19 crisis that shuttered movie theaters, joining the likes of STX’s My Spy (to Amazon), and Paramount/MRC’s The Lovebirds (to Netflix).

Adapted by Seth Rich from his 2013 New Yorker novella Sell Out, An American Pickle stars Rogen as Herschel Greenbaum, a struggling laborer who immigrates to America in 1920 with dreams of building a better life for his beloved family. One day, while working at his factory job, he falls into a vat of pickles and is brined for 100 years. The brine preserves him perfectly and when he emerges in present day Brooklyn, he finds that he hasn’t aged a day. But when he seeks out his family, he is troubled to learn that his only surviving relative is his great-grandson Ben Greenbaum (also played by Rogen), a mild-mannered computer coder whom Herschel can’t even begin to understand.

Brandon Trost directed the pic, which was produced by Rogen, Goldberg and James Weaver. Rich executive produced alongside Point Grey’s Alex McAtee and Ted Gidlow.

Warner Bros and HBO Max took the wraps off Warner Max in February, launching the film label that is serving as the streaming service’s feature production arm. The joint venture is targeting releasing eight to 10 mid-budget movies per year, overseen by HBO Max’s chief content officer Kevin Reilly and Warner Bros Pictures Group chairman Toby Emmerich, who share greenlight power and will work in collaboration with Warner Bros Pictures Group COO Carolyn Blackwood and HBO Max Head of Original Content Sarah Aubrey.

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Justice League Dark Series in the Works at HBO Max, From J.J. Abrams

It looks like the Green Lanterns will have some super friends over at HBO Max.

Five months after it was announced that Greg Berlanti was developing a series based on characters from the iconic Green Lantern comic, HBO Max has made a production commitment to “a major series based on DC characters in the Justice League Dark Universe” — and it is but one of three new projects for the upcoming streamer from J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot shingle.

No further details were shared.

HBO Max: Guide to Upcoming Shows

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The other Bad Robot orders from HBO Max include a horror-thriller series inspired by and featuring iconic characters from Stephen King’s The Shining, plus an original series. (Read more on those two here.)

“What an amazing start to our association with the wildly imaginative Bad Robot team under J.J. and Katie,” HBO Max CCO Kevin Reilly said in a statement. “What could be better than an original J.J. idea and then Warner Bros. letting them loose on iconic I.P. from Stephen King and the DC Universe and to provide more must-have programming on HBO Max.”

The Justice League Dark itself is a superhero team that originally was comprised of characters such as Zatanna, Madame Xanadu and John Constantine, while later incarnations involved Swamp Thing, Wonder Woman and Detective Chimp.

Berlanti’s aforementioned Green Lantern series — which was “in the early stages” as of January, TVLine previously reported — “is going to span several decades and focus on the origin story of two major Green Lanterns on Earth” while also going into space to explore Green Lantern favorite Sinestro.

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