Monday, November 16, 2020

DOC NYC Spotlight: On the Record

I’m excited to be covering DOC NYC, America’s largest documentary festival, which presents its eleventh year, this time in a mostly online format, from November 11th-19th. 

On the Record
Directed by Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering
Ticket Information

The #metoo movement has exposed horrific behavior from a number of powerful men who took advantage of the positions they were in to harass, assault, and abuse those who had previously looked up to them or needed their approval to keep their jobs. While there have been many brought down by accusations against them, their prevalence means that many more have likely been able to perpetrate similar offenses without any consequences. Coming forward can be an extraordinarily painful experience for victims, and the notion that they may not be believed makes that process even more difficult.

Drew Dixon is a music producer who, early in her career, worked at Def Jam Recordings, where she interacted closely with Russell Simmons. She was subjected to increasingly disconcerting instances of inappropriate behavior from Simmons, and understood that the culture of the industry and company wouldn’t find in her favor if she spoke up about it. Years later, along with Sheri Sher, Sil Lai Abrams, and others, she has come forward to share her story, risking her reputation to tell the truth, fully aware that a society that has not been taught to believe women may dismiss her and side with Simmons.

This film offers a firm defense of the right of sexual assault victims to be heard, probing the multitude of reasons why women do not speak out and how those who abuse their authority are enabled to continue unchecked. There is also an examination of the higher burden placed on women of color, and the “light privilege” enjoyed by Dixon and others like her whose skin tone make her more likely to be taken seriously by a public that has undeniable prejudices. It’s an important message about the complexities of situations which are all too often made to seem simplistic and navigable for those who haven’t had to experience them.

Even more than the film industry, where the most prominent directors and producers who have been accused of deplorable behavior may not be known by face to the public, those with all the power are often recognizable faces with loyal followings. It’s disturbing to see the flood of responses to Dixon coming forward which attempt to silence or mock her and offer firm support for Simmons, who flatly denies all of the allegations. The #metoo movement may help some feel more comfortable with the idea of sharing their painful stories, but there is evidently a lot of work to be done, as shown by this powerful and enlightening spotlight.


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