Movistar + premieres Against Silence, a moving documentary that describes through testimonies the sexual abuse to which some colleagues who worked with Russell Simmons, the co-founder of the Def Jam label, were subjected. Also, look at how black women have felt outside of the MeToo movement.
“What is the Me Too missing? It’s hard to say, but I don’t think it’s a coincidence that most of the Hollywood women who have stood up are white and have been successful. If we look at the distribution of power in the United States, we see white men at the top and women of color at the bottom. And that must be taken into account when we talk about who steps forward and tells of her experience in the face of abuse or sexual assault ”. With these words from the writer and journalist Bim Adewunmi begins the documentary Against Silence (On The Record), by Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering. The film, which comes to Movistar + this Friday, February 19, focuses on the victims who over the past few years have publicly denounced having been attacked by Russell Simmons, the co-founder of the famous record label Def Jam Recordings.
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Simmons, known as the “godfather of hip hop” (he owes the global success of such influential names in the genre as Beastie Boys, LL Cool J or Public Enemy), for decades he was an untouchable in the industry. At least, until November 19, 2017. Just that day, in the pages of the Los Angeles Times, his name became associated with that of one of his best friends, film producer Brett Ratner. In this article the model Keri Claussen Khalighi not only detailed how Ratner raped her in 1991 on the threshold of reaching the age of majority, but also pointed to Simmons as an accomplice because he was a witness to the scene and did not help her by asking for help. Both denied the allegations, but that testimony was key to a former Def Jam employee, Drew Dixon, breaking her silence a month later at The New York Times.
Dixon, the true protagonist of the documentary, in 1995 had an enviable career at 24 years old. At the time she was working as an A&R executive at Def Jam itself. And although she initially had to face various macho comments, she quickly earned the respect of her superiors by becoming one of the most important new talent discoverers of the time. Certainly, professionally, her life was smiling at him. But everything changed the night Simmons, at the Tabac Cafe in New York, tried to lock her in a closet to kiss her. Dixon rejected him, but after that he did not stop repeatedly harassing her in her office. “He was always apologetic and sorry,” she says. Without a doubt, she was terrified at the idea of losing that position for which she had fought so hard.
The most tragic event also happened in 1995 when Simmons, after having a few drinks at the Bowery Bar, invited her to her apartment on the pretext of ordering a car. She refused, but the music mogul insisted that she had to listen to a demo she kept at home. Interestingly, the CD player was in her bedroom. “The next thing I remember is that he was naked, with a condom, and he grabbed me. He grabbed me, threw me onto the bed and pinned me down. I said no. She told me to stop fighting with a very cold, threatening and distant voice that I had never, never heard in him, ”she narrates on the tape. Also, Dixon noticed that handcuffs were hanging from the canopy of the bed. Despite not using them, she became so scared that she passed out, which is a common self-preservation mechanism in sexual assault survivors.
“The next thing I remember is I was in the bathtub with him naked. He said, ‘Now that you and I are getting laid, Drew, we’ll go out and fuck all the time,’ ”he adds. After hearing those words she got dressed, walked 22 blocks to get to her apartment and, with her clothes on, she collapsed in the shower: “At that moment I was reduced to nothing. It was nothing. It was rubbish. It was a physical thing that he used for her pleasure. ” A few days later, he presented his letter of resignation. She did not file a complaint because she “thought no one would believe me.”
A year later Dixon joined Arista Records. However, in 2000, when L.A. Reid took charge of that label, she relived her worst nightmares: the sexual advances of her new boss returned to mark her day to day. His refusal to sleep with him had direct consequences for artists who, at that time, were trying to get their first record deal. Without going any further, by way of revenge, Reid refused to sign Kanye West and John Legend. In 2002, he was hopeless, “I just ran away from my dream, from my passion” and he made the decision to leave the music industry forever.
Beyond the facts concerning Dixon, Against Silence has the testimony of seven other women who claim to have lived similar episodes with Simmons. Among them, the activist and writer Sil Lai Abrams, who on June 28, 2018 shared her story in The Hollywood Reporter. In the same way, throughout its hour and a half duration, the documentary highlights other issues such as the misogynistic and sexist attitude that hip hop has enhanced through its lyrics and video clips; the current role of Me Too outside the Hollywood margins, or the rejection and social discredit that a large number of women of color have suffered despite being victims of abuse. Above all, within the African American community itself. There is the case of the model Desiree Washington, who brought Mike Tyson to trial, or that of the lawyer Anita Hill, who in 1991 publicly testified that the Supreme Court nominee, Clarence Thomas, had sexually harassed her while working for him. .
“At first many black women did not feel identified with Me Too because they thought: ‘It’s great that this woman has spoken and we support her as a person, but she is not our movement.’ The need and duty that women of color feel to protect men of color is an obstacle to our own protection, ”explains Tarana Burke, one of the founders of the movement that began in 2017 after the Harvey Weisntein scandal became known. “Many women of color allow racial loyalty to buy into their silence because they cannot reconcile the idea of being part of a penal system that has been so harsh on men of color. Historically we know that one of the justifications for lynching men of color has been sexual assault. So over time an awareness has developed in the black community that lynching is an expression of white supremacy. The sexual projection of black men as dangerous is a particular expression, ”says journalist Joan Morgan. The fear of being branded traitors among their own, sadly, continues to be a great stigma in the United States.
Against Silence has not been without controversy. Initially, Oprah Winfrey was going to serve as an executive producer, but she suddenly disengaged from the project days before the documentary premiered in January 2020 at the Sundance Film Festival. As The New York Times reported, the television star alleged creative differences with the directors and confessed that Simmons “contacted me several times and tried to pressure me.” Be that as it may, today there are already a score of women who have had the courage to speak out loud and clear about the co-founder of Def Jam. At the moment no judge has summoned him, but thanks to all of them, at last, the sewers of hip hop have been uncovered.