On the Record ★★★★½

Names like Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby have taken the headlines over the past few years as the list of men in powerful positions exposed for rape and sexual assault continues to grow. In the UK, outside of hip hop fans and music industry bods the name Russell Simmons might not ring as clearly. But his position as co-founder of Def Jam records and the man responsible for bringing rap into the mainstream (Beastie Boys, Run DMC, LL Cool J and countless others) saw him take the position as the king of hip-hop from the late-80s through the 90s. He was a titan who helped grow the culture into the dominant force it is today, the force behind a music that has provided the soundtrack to the world for the past 30 years.

But as chronicled in On the Record, it appears that's only part of what Simmons has been responsible for. Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering’s powerful and deeply moving new documentary sees a number of women say he assaulted and raped them, with the number now as high as 20. The film first appeared on HBO Max at the end of May and arrives at a time when the Black Lives Matter movement has finally been heard around the world (how much remains to be seen in the months to come) and beyond what seems to be a very narrow dynamic of the Me Too movement (mostly white, successful and rich) it gives Black women a voice too many continue to ignore.

“Who we choose to listen to is predicated on who see as valuable in America,” says writer Shanita Hubbard, echoing the voices of countless Black women who feel the image of always being labelled ‘strong’ and ‘outspoken’ mirrors the lazy characteristics perpetuated against Black men, thus dampening their voices when speaking out against injustice. It must be stated that Dick and Ziering are both white women, so while not fully representative of the Black female experience in America, their film attempts to dig into the roots of how this misrepresentation has been cultivated over the past 400 years to connect it with the story of multiple women who came forward to accuse Simmons.

Review continues over at The Digital Fix