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Oprah Winfrey insists exit from Sundance documentary 'not a victory' for Russell Simmons

Christi Carras, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

Once again, Oprah Winfrey is here to remind everyone that her exit from a Sundance documentary featuring Russell Simmons' accusers had nothing to do with pressure she received from the music mogul.

Appearing on Tuesday's "CBS This Morning," Winfrey addressed the media storm surrounding her decision to remove herself as executive producer of "On the Record," a film by Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering centering on multiple women who have accused Simmons of sexual misconduct. In keeping with her statements so far, the OWN mastermind doubled down on the move, reiterating concerns that the documentary was not ready to premiere at this weekend's Sundance Film Festival.

"In all experiences of my life, and particularly when I'm in a crisis, the only question for me is, 'What is the right thing to do ... for me?'" Winfrey told the CBS hosts.

"Before the public pressure had started, before Russell had gone with his Instagram, I had gone to the filmmakers, and I had said to them, 'Houston, I think we have a problem here,' ... I said, 'I think we need to pull out of Sundance, and if we can't pull out of Sundance, I'm going to have to take my name off. I don't want to have to take my name off because it's going to be a big hullabaloo.'"

A "big hullabaloo indeed. Winfrey made headlines when she left the documentary in early January, about a month after her involvement was announced as part of her producing deal with Apple TV+ -- where the project was originally set to land before the veteran TV host jumped ship.

Winfrey also dismissed claims that she failed black women by allowing herself to be "intimidated" by Simmons, calling the idea "ridiculous." When reminded that some have perceived her retreat as a win for Simmons -- who has publicly and privately expressed his disappointment with her involvement -- she fired back.

 

"This is not a victory for Russell, and I unequivocally say that I did not pull out because of Russell," she said. "This is not a victory lap for him. I cannot be silenced by a Russell Simmons after all I've been through ... I stand with the women. I support the women. And I do hope people will see the film."

Simmons has denied all allegations, saying in a November 2017 statement to The Times, ""Let me be crystal clear and very direct. Abusing women in any way shape or form violates the very core of my being."

Shortly after Winfrey announced her departure, the Los Angeles Times sat down with Dick and Ziering, who recounted the damaging aftermath of the alleged blindside and recalled their cordial interactions with Winfrey's team leading up to it.

"She loved, loved, loved what we did," Ziering said. "And then she saw it numerous times throughout the editing process. We had a very close working relationship and very, very positive -- enthusiastically positive. There weren't any issues."

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