On the Record (5 stars)

On the Record

This exploration of the Russell Simmons sexual assault allegations makes a powerful addition to #MeToo

The sexual assault allegations against hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons form the basis of an incendiary piece of filmmaking from Oscar-nominated documentarians Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering (The Invisible War). Beginning with black women drawing attention to their absence and alienation from the Me Too movement, it points out that, 'America picks and chooses who we're going to listen to.'

On the Record centres on the experiences and emotional journey of former Def Jam A&R executive Drew Dixon, who exhibits great dignity as she contemplates going public with her allegations regarding the actions of Simmons and similarly prominent music industry figure LA Reid. It illuminates her moral struggle and fear of the resulting backlash, from the black community in particular, as she notes that for women like Anita Hill speaking out didn't end well. Dixon makes for an extremely compelling focus, proving eloquent and considered as she reluctantly enters the limelight with her story, at considerable personal cost.

Punctuating Dixon's more rigorously explored process is the equivalently moving testimony of survivors such as Sil Lai Abrams and Sheri Sher, with the film building a convincing chorus of accusations from numerous women who tell their own stories about Simmons, who, though 20 women have now publicly accused him of sexual harassment, assault or rape, has yet to be charged with, or convicted of any crimes. Their experiences and the difficulty of sharing them are fascinatingly contextualised by the words of an impressive array of black feminists, commentators and academics, including Me Too originator Tarana Burke, Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, Kierna Mayo and Britain's Bim Adewunmi.

The film asks difficult questions about expectations of race loyalty, given the historical oppression and demonisation of black men, and about problematic perceptions of black femininity, which might explain why black women have such a hard time being believed. And there are some truly touching moments as Simmons's accusers come together in a film that specialises in soul-searching and shows of solidarity. As formidably intelligent and thoughtful as its take on the subject is, On the Record never loses sight of the human suffering at its core.

Available to watch on demand from Fri 26 Jun.