Surviving Testimonies

Following such films as Leaving Neverland and Untouchable, On The Record is another frank and unflinching account of sexual abuse in the entertainment industry. That the alleged perpetrator, hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons, is neither a mega-star like Michael Jackson, the subject of the Neverland doc, or as infamous as convicted movie producer Harvey Weinstein, the focus of Untouchable, shouldn’t matter; this is still a shocking tale, told with conviction and intimacy.

Although several women come forward, the main accuser is Drew Dixon, a former A&R executive at Simmons’ influential label Def Jam Records. As she recounts, it was a dream job for this music fanatic but it was, eventually, to turn horrifyingly sour. Simmons has denied that he ever engaged in sex that was non-consensual, but Dixon’s account is clear-eyed throughout. In the office, he exposed his penis to her – Dixon initially telling herself that he was “this tragic ADD puppy dog who I had to keep re-training”.

Yet according to Dixon, events took a turn when, one night, he urged her to come back to his apartment to listen to a demo. The next thing she knew, Dixon was in the bedroom and Simmons arrived naked with just a condom on – a modus operandi that is later recalled by another victim. After leaving Def Jam, Dixon later reportedly faced – and fended off – similar advances from another influencer in the music world, L.A. Reid.

Directed by Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering, who previously dealt with cases of rape in the U.S. military in the Oscar-nominated documentary The Invisible War, On The Record is given further urgency by footage seen of Dixon as she considers going public with New York Times. Taking place in the wake of the Weinstein case unfolding, as the #MeToo organisation brought out further accusations of sexual impropriety on an almost daily basis back in late 2017, the film shows just how traumatic making such a life-exposing decision really is.

The film also dips into the idea that black women felt disconnected from the #MeToo movement; it was obviously made before the recent surge in interest in Black Lives Matter, but there is something to be said for a documentary that makes it clear that abuse should never be tolerated, in any industry, against anyone. In the end, while the courage of Dixon and others is to be admired, On The Record just leaves you with an overwhelming sense of sadness.

On the Record is available to stream from 26 June. For more details, click here.

James Mottram