Review: ‘Athlete A,’ starring Maggie Nichols, Rachael Denhollander, Jamie Dantzscher, Steve Berta, Marisa Kwiatkowski, Mark Alesia and Jennifer Sey

June 24, 2020

by Carla Hay

Maggie Nichols in “Athlete A” (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

“Athlete A”

Directed by Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk

Culture Representation: The documentary “Athlete A” interviews an all-white group of people to discuss how officials and survivors handled the crimes of convicted sex offender Larry Nassar, the disgraced former doctor who worked for USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University.

Culture Clash: The documentary examines how Nassar’s crimes were actively covered up by officials and how a team of Indianapolis Star investigative reporters exposed the Nassar scandal in 2016.

Culture Audience: “Athlete A” will appeal primarily to people who like true-crime documentaries, but the movie doesn’t uncover anything new and leaves out some important details.

Rachael Denhollander in “Athlete A” (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

There will be inevitable comparisons of Netflix’s 2020 documentary film “Athlete A” (directed by Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk) and HBO’s 2019 documentary film “At the Heart of Gold: Inside the USA Gymnastics Scandal” (directed by Erin Lee Carr), because both documentaries essentially cover the same topic. Neither film uncovers anything new about the 2016 scandal that exposed Larry Nassar’s sexual abuse of hundreds of female patients while he worked as a doctor for USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University. “Athlete A” takes a different angle from “At the Heart of Gold” by giving more of a spotlight to the Indianapolis Star newspaper team that broke the story.

“Athlete A” gets its title from the alias that was given to gymnast Maggie Nichols when she filed a formal complaint with USA Gymnastics in 2015 to report that Nassar had sexually abused her numerous times, in the guise of administering “medical examinations.” Nichols’ complaint was one of several that USA Gymnastics actively covered up and did not report to police. Michigan State University also did the same thing when it received numerous sexual-abuse complaints about Nassar, whose known abuse spanned more than 20 years.

Maggie Nichols is among the survivors of Nassar’s abuse who are interviewed in “Athlete A,” which also interviews former gymnasts Rachael Denhollander, Jessica Howard and Jamie Dantzscher, who are also survivors of Nassar’s abuse. “Athlete A,” which focuses more on how the scandal went public, has a much smaller number of people interviewed, compared to “In the Heart of Gold,” which has a broader look at the aftermath of the scandal. And ultimately, taking a much narrower view might be why “Athlete A” provides a less complete picture than “At the Heart of Gold.”

The Nassar scandal exposed the culture of cover-ups, abuse, silence and intimidation that many female gymnasts (who are usually underage when the abuse starts) have had to endure in their quest for athletic glory. Several media outlets and documentaries have already done in-depth investigations and reported their findings of the Nassar scandal, but the Indianapolis Star was the first to break the story.

“Athlete A” gives a lot of screen time to the Indianapolis Star team members who broke the story: investigations editor Steve Berta and investigative reporters Marisa Kwiatkowski, Mark Alesia and Tim Evans. They all give a step-by-step replay of how they uncovered how deep the scandal was and how far back the cover-ups were, as more and more women started coming forward to the Indianapolis Star with their Nassar horror stories.

Berta says of the culture of female gymnastics: “What the culture was like was new to me, and we were sort of plunged into it.” Kwiatkowski explains that the Indianapolis Star (which is nicknamed the Indy Star) somewhat stumbled onto the Nassar story when the newspaper was investigating a broader story on why people don’t report sexual abuse in schools.

The Indianapolis Star got a tip to look into USA Gymnastics, and that led the reporters down the path to find out about Nassar’s sex crimes and what officials did to cover up the complaints against him. (Nassar has now been stripped of his medical license. In 2017 and 2018, he received numerous prison sentences that will ensure that he will die in prison.)

Curiously, “Athlete A” paints an incomplete picture by focusing mostly on USA Gymnastics as the chief perpetrator of the cover-ups, and the documentary largely ignores Michigan State University’s similar cover-ups of Nassar’s crimes. Several officials from USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University have since been fired or have resigned because of the Nassar scandal. Many of these disgraced officials are facing criminal and/or civil cases because of their involvement in the scandal.

As many people who are familiar with the scandal already know, USA Gymnastics had a policy to not report a sexual-abuse claim to the police unless the alleged victim, the alleged victim’s parents and/or an eyewitness signed the complaint. Most of the accusers were underage children, so this policy goes against most U.S. state laws that require companies and organizations to report complaints of underage sexual abuse to police.

Nassar certainly wasn’t the only one to be accused, and when his sex crimes were exposed, the media also uncovered that over a period of 10 years, USA Gymnastics had received sexual-abuse complaints against approximately 54 coaches (most of the crimes were against underage girls), but those complaints were never reported to police. USA Gymnastics often transferred many of those coaches to other locations.

Steven Penny Jr., who was president/CEO of USA Gymnastics from 2005 to 2017, is portrayed in “Athlete A” as the king of the Nassar cover-ups. The documentary includes some brief commentary about him, including people who say that Penny abused his power and that his marketing background caused him to give more priority to image and sponsorship deals for USA Gymnastics instead of the safety and well-being of the athletes.

Berta says, “They [USA Gymnastics] were so busy trying to sell that brand that the didn’t have time for these girls.” The documentary also includes archival news footage of Penny’s pathetic appearance in a 2018 U.S. Senate subcommittee hearing, when he invoked the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution in his refusal to answer any questions.

Gina Nichols and John Nichols, the parents of Maggie Nichols, say in “Athlete A” interviews that they had trusted Penny when he told them that USA Gymnastics would be handling Maggie’s sexual-abuse complaints against Nassar. The Nicholas parents say that when Sarah Jantzi, Maggie’s coach at the time, first reported the abuse to USA Gymnastics in 2015, the company ordered the Nichols parents and Jantzi not to go to the police and were told that the matter was going to be handled internally by USA Gymnastics.

A human-resources consultant hired by USA Gymnastics interviewed Maggie, but when her parents followed up to find out the status of the investigation, they were stonewalled by USA Gymnastics and told that they couldn’t reveal any details because it was an ongoing investigation. Meanwhile, Nassar continued to be a USA Gymnastics doctor, and several gymnasts later testified that he abused them before, during and after the 2016 Olympics.

Maggie Nichols eventually went public in 2018 about how Nassar abused her. But her experience is strikingly similar to others who survived his abuse. (Nassar is believed to have sexually abused at least 500 female patients.) All of his survivors, and even people who weren’t abused by Nassar, say that he easily fooled people into thinking he was the “nice guy” in a sea of gymnastic coaches and officials were were tough and openly abusive to athletes.

If people are wondering why all these parents of underage kids didn’t take it upon themselves go to the police after finding out about the abuse, it’s explained in “Athlete A” (and other documentaries/news reports about the Nassar scandal) that USA Gymnastics had the power to decide who would be selected to go to the Olympics. These parents naïvely trusted that USA Gymnastics would do the right thing in handling the abuse complaints, but there was also fear of upsetting Penny and other people at the top who could make or break their daughters’ Olympic dreams.

Gina Nichols and John Nichols believe that Maggie was blackballed from being on the Olympic team because she was a “whistleblower.” Maggie was a bronze medalist at the 2014 USA Gymnastics National Championships and a silver medalist at the 2015 USA Gymnastics National Championships. She was considered a top contender to be chosen for the USA Gymnastics women’s team for the 2016 Olympics.

Despite a having a knee injury at the 2016 Olympic tryouts, Maggie performed well, but didn’t make the Olympic team, while some Nationals team alternates were chosen instead. Gina Nichols and John Nichols say in the documentary that they saw signs that USA Gymnastics had blackballed them because the organization treated them differently after Maggie’s abuse was reported to USA Gymnastics, but the complaint against Nassar hadn’t been made public yet.

After the abuse was reported, Gina Nichols and John Nichols say that at the 2016 Olympic tryouts, they didn’t have reserved seats and there weren’t TV cameras following them, as there normally would have been for all the other USA Gymnastics televised events where star gymnast Maggie previously participated. The Nichols parents don’t come right out and accuse anyone specific for causing this blatant snubbing, but it’s obvious that they believe several people’s claims that Penny demanded it. The good news is that Maggie went on to achieve gymnastic championships in the National Collegiate Athletic Association, while she was a student at the University of Oklahoma.

“Athlete A” includes archival video footage of Denhollander being interviewed in 2016 by the Indianapolis Star when she came forward to expose Nassar, 16 years after he abused her. She says at one point: “I wish I had dealt with it 16 years ago. I don’t think I could’ve dealt with it, but I can now.”

The documentary also shows the toll that this abuse took on the survivors, many of whom were ridiculed and not believed when they first came forward. Denhollander, who looks painfully thin in her 2016 interview with the Indianapolis Star, says that she had trouble eating because of all the stress. Dantzscher, who was on the USA Olympics team in 2000, says that gymnastics was her “first love,. but she tearfully admits that it took her years to proud to be an Olympian because Nassar abused her at the Olympics and she associated the Olympics with the shame of the abuse.

“Athlete A” also delves into the history of women’s gymnastics to explain how it went from being a sport that had mostly regular-sized adult women prior to the 1960s but it eventually changed into a sport dominated by underage girls, and a height of 5’4″ was considered “tall” for female gymnasts. This “little girl” aesthetic for female gymnasts coincided with the rise of Romanian gymnastic coaches Bela and Martha Karolyi, a husband-and-wife duo whose Karolyi Ranch training facility in Texas was where Nassar committed a lot of his sexual abuse.

Beginning with Russian gold-medalist gymnast Olga Korbut at the 1972 Olympics and especially with Romanian gold-medalist gymnast Nadia Comăneci at the 1976 Olympics, the trend moved in the direction of underage, very petite girls being pushed to compete in gymnastics at the Olympics. Comăneci was only 14 when she became a gold medalist at the 1976 Olympics. Her victory made her coaches Béla and Márta Károlyi highly in demand to train female gymnasts.

In 1981, the Károlyis defected to the United States with their choreographer Geza Poszar, who is interviewed in “Athlete A.” The Károlyis also went on to coach Olympic gold-medalists gymnasts Mary Lou Retton and Kerri Strug. “Athlete A” spends a little too much time going off-topic by rehashing the Olympic victories of Comăneci, Retton and Strug. These gymnasts had nothing to do with Nassar.

Poszar says that the Károlyis’ method of working with gymnasts was “total control over the girls.” He says that Károlyis (and coaches just like them) often abuse the gymnasts verbally, emotionally and physically. It was common for the gymnasts to be slapped and be told that they were fat animals, says Poszar. That type of abuse was “acceptable” in his native Romania, he says, and it apparently was acceptable in the United States too.

Károlyi Ranch, a training facility near Hunstville, Texas, closed in 2018. The Károlyis are no longer USA Gymnastics coaches (Béla retired in 1997, while Márta retired in 2016), and they have both been sued for being part of the Nassar cover-up. “Athlete A” includes a clip from a videotaped deposition of Márta Károlyi admitting that she knew about complaints of Nassar’s abuse that was happening at the ranch.

People familiar with Károlyi Ranch describe it as an oppressive, isolated compound where parents weren’t allowed to visit, gymnasts were forbidden to call people outside the ranch (where cell-phone reception was difficult anyway), and people were punished for reporting abuse. The Károlyis, just like everyone else accused of covering up for Nassar, are not interviewed in “Athlete A.”

Giving her perspective on coaching techniques is former U.S. Nationals Team gymnast is Jennifer Sey, author of the 2008 memoir: “Chalked Up: Inside Elite Gymnastics’ Merciless Coaching, Overzealous Parents, Eating Disorders, and Elusive Olympic Dreams.” Sey, who competed as a gymnast in the 1970s and 1980s, says that coaching methods for female gymnasts haven’t changed much over the years: “You could be as cruel as you needed to be to get what you needed out of your athletes.”

Sey adds, “The line between tough coaching and abuse gets blurred.” She and other people in the documentary (including Dantzscher) mention something that’s commonly known in the gymnastics world: Gymnasts are often forced to compete with serious injuries, including fractured or broken bones. As an example, “Athlete A” shows Strug’s 1996 Olympic victory, which happened despite her severely injuring her ankle during the last stretch of the Olympic match.

Tracee Talavera, who was on the USA Women’s Gymnastics team at the 1984 Olympics, says she remembers how the Olympic gymnasts from Eastern Europe always looked scared and they never looked happy. Mike Jacki, who was president of USA Gymnastics from 1983 to 1994, adds his perspective, by saying that the popularity of Mary Lou Retton and more American female gymnasts starting to win at the Olympics, was the start of USA Gymnastics becoming a bigger business.

“Athlete A” clearly discusses Olympic gymnasts from the 1970s and 1980s, as a way to put into context to the culture of abuse that enabled Nassar. But this detour into the history of female gymnastics ultimately takes up too much time in the documentary, which should have kept its focus on the Nassar cases.

And for a documentary about the investigation of a sexual abuser who had hundreds of victims, “Athlete A” has a surprising scarcity of interviews from people in the fields of law and law enforcement. Only one personal attorney is interviewed: John Manly, who is Dantzcher’s lawyer. From law enforcement, Michigan State University Police detective lieutenant Andrea Munford and Michigan state assistant attorney Angela Povilaitis are interviewed, and they describe their involvements in the Nassar case. (Again, nothing new is revealed here.)

“Athlete A” also includes the expected news archival footage of the survivor impact statements that were read during Nassar’s 2018 sentencing hearings, after he pleaded guilty to numerous charges. Denhollander and Dantzscher were among the survivors who read their statements while a shamed Nassar sat in the courtroom. Maggie Nichols did not attend these hearings, but her mother Gina read Maggie’s statement in court. “Athlete A” does not have interviews with Nassar’s most famous survivors, including Olympic gold-medalists Simone Biles, Aly Raisman, Gabby Douglas and McKayla Maroney.

Former USA Gymnastics president/CEO Penny was arrested in 2018 on charges of  evidence tampering. His criminal case is pending, as of this writing. Video footage of his arrest is included in “Athlete A.”

But in an apparent myopic zeal to make Penny look like the top evil overlord of covering up for Nassar, “Athlete A” oversimplifies and overlooks the fact that a cover-up of this magnitude and length wasn’t just orchestrated by mainly one person. “Athlete A” fails to mentions two of the toxic enablers who were given some scrutiny in “At the Heart of Gold”: John Geddert (former USA Gymnastics coach) and Kathie Klages (former Michigan State University gymnastics coach). Geddert is under criminal investigation, as of this writing. In February 2020, Klages was convicted of two counts (one felony and one misdemeanor) of lying to police.

There have been other people who’ve been accused of actively covering up for Nassar’s crimes, including former Michigan State University president Lou Anna Simon, who resigned in 2018. In 2019, Simon was charged with lying to the police, but in May 2020, those charges were dismissed. In 2018, Scott Blackmun resigned as CEO of the U.S. Olympic Committee. That same year, Alan Ashley was fired as U.S. Olympic Committee chief of sport performance over his involvement in the Nassar scandal. Simon, Blackmun and Ashley are not mentioned in “Athlete A” or in “At the Heart of Gold.”

“Athlete A'” does mention Rhonda Faehn, who was a USA Gymnastics vice president at the time that Maggie Nichols filed her complaint against Nassar, but Faehn did not go to police with the complaint. In yet another example of omitting information, “Athlete A” never mentions what happened to Faehn: She testified against Nassar in 2018 in grand-jury proceedings, then she was hired by the University of Michigan in 2019 (and then fired after one day, due to public backlash), and later that year, Faehn was given a temporary job as an international team coach at Waverley Gymnastics Centre in Australia.

“Athlete A” certainly has good intentions to put the spotlight on the serious issue of abuse, as it pertains to American female gymnasts. However, the documentary ultimately just recycles information that other people already reported. The documentary’s interviews are compelling, but the filmmakers’ lack of original investigative reporting and omission of crucial details are ultimately a letdown for this important subject matter.

Netflix premiere “Athlete A” on May 24, 2020.

Review: ‘On the Record,’ starring Drew Dixon, Sheri Sher, Sil Lai Abrams, Jenny Lumet, Alexia Norton Jones, Tarana Burke and Kierna Mayo

May 25, 2020

by Carla Hay

Drew Dixon in “On the Record” (Photo courtesy of HBO Max)

“On the Record”

Directed by Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering

Culture Representation: The documentary “On the Record” interviews a predominantly black group of people (with some representation of white people)—including #MeToo accusers, media people and activists—who discuss the #MeToo movement and accusations against disgraced entertainment mogul Russell Simmons.

Culture Clash: Most of the accusers are black, and they say there’s extra pressure on them to stay silent if they are accusing a black man because of the justice system’s racial inequalities for black men.

Culture Audience: “On the Record” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in the #MeToo movement and social justice issues.

Drew Dixon and Ella Wylde in “On the Record” (Photo courtesy of HBO Max)

It’s hard enough for many survivors of sexual assault to come forward, but for many people of color, there are added layers of complexity if the person making the assault claim is accusing someone of their own race. Black people are particularly sensitive to being called a “race traitor” when it comes to putting black men in the U.S. criminal justice system, which has a checkered history of racial inequalities. The meaningful documentary “On the Record” shines a light on this issue, as it tells the stories of several women who claim that they’ve been sexually assaulted or harassed by disgraced entertainment mogul Russell Simmons.

Simmons is best known for being the co-founder of Def Jam (which started off as a hip-hop record label and expanded into television and film), Rush Communications and the fashion brands Phat Farm and Baby Phat. In late 2017, at the beginning of the #MeToo Movement resurgence, several women came forward to accuse Simmons of rape or other sexual assault. He has denied all the allegations, by saying all the encounters were consensual. However, he stepped down from his businesses shortly after the public accusations.

One of the accusers is Drew Dixon, who claims that Simmons raped her in 1995, when she was an A&R executive at Def Jam. Dixon gets the most screen time in “On the Record,” because her process of deciding to come forward to The New York Times is chronicled in the documentary. Part of the documentary feels like a semi-biography of Dixon, since so much of her personal history is in the film.

The movie also shows a great deal of Dixon at home (where she’s shown listening to some of the music she worked on and even digging through her stuff to find an old Junior Mafia demo tape), as well as revisiting some of the places where she worked early in her music career. She’s also seen visiting with friends, as they discuss her decision to go public with her accusations. And even some of Dixon’s phone conversations with New York Times reporter Joe Coscarelli (who co-wrote the New York Times article with Melena Ryzik) are in the documentary.

Dixon is the daughter of politically active parents—her mother Sharon was elected the first African American female mayor of Washington, D.C., in 1991—and she has an education from prestigious universities. (She’s a graduate of Stanford University and Harvard Business School.) Although she came from a privileged background and likes a wide variety of music, Dixon says in “On the Record” that her heart lies with the street culture of hip-hop and other urban music.

“Music has always been a language I spoke,” Dixon says in the documentary. “Hip-hop had this additional appeal that was empowering for people who were otherwise overlooked. I grew up feeling that it was my mission as the daughter of local politicians. Hip-hop combined the two things that I loved: activism and this sense of pride with music. It seems like it could, I thought, to change the world.”

She knew she wanted to work in showbiz when she had the experience of booking the entertainment for her mother’s mayoral inauguration party. Rare Essence, Big Daddy Kane and Kwamé were the performers. It was then that Dixon decided that she had a knack for working with artists, so she had her sights set on working in a record company’s A&R (artists and repertoire) department, which is responsible for signing artists and overseeing music that goes on albums. After she graduated from Stanford in 1992, Dixon moved to New York City and began paying her dues in the music business.

Dixon worked as a receptionist at Empire Artist Management, Jive Records and Warner Bros. Records. She eventually became an executive at Zomba Publishing. In 1994, she landed what she thought at the time was her dream job: working in the A&R department at Def Jam Records, which was riding high with hip-hop artists such as LL Cool J, Public Enemy, EPMD, Warren G and Redman.

One of her first major successes at Def Jam was helping compile the hit soundtrack for the 1995 documentary film “The Show,” which featured songs from the Notorious B.I.G., 2Pac, Mary J. Blige, Method Man, Warren G, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony and A Tribe Called Quest. Dixon also mentions in the documentary how in her early days in the music business, she knew the Notorious B.I.G. (also known as Biggie Smalls) before he was famous, and he would look out for her in the streets that were his territory where he was a drug dealer. Dixon also takes credit for being the person who came up with the idea to pair Blige and Method Man for their 1995 hit “I’ll Be There for You/You’re All I Need to Get By.”

In the documentary, Dixon goes into extensive detail about sexual misconduct she says that she experienced while she was a Def Jam employee. Dixon says that Simmons started off with saying crude sexual comments and trying to kiss her, which she felt pressured to laugh off at the time because she was afraid that he would lose her job if she complained. She says his behavior worsened, as he began sexually exposing himself to her.

Dixon remembers how she felt about it at the time: “I thought he was like a tragic ADD [attention-deficit disorder] puppy dog that I had to keep retraining … He always sheepishly apologized later, so I thought, ‘He feels bad.'”

She says that Simmons violently raped after he lured her into his home by telling her that he wanted her to hear some music from a new artist. According to Dixon, Simmons overpowered her, ignored her frantic attempts to stop the assault, and then afterward acted as if the encounter was consensual. Almost all his accusers tell similar stories.

Dixon says she was so traumatized that she eventually quit working for Def Jam. She became an A&R executive at Arista Records in 1996, where she had success working with such artists as Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston, TLC, Usher and Carlos Santana. But things began to go sour for her at Arista when her boss Clive Davis was pushed out of the company and Antonio “L.A.” Reid became president/CEO of Arista in 2000.

Dixon says that Reid sexually harassed her repeatedly, and when she rejected his advances, he began to undermine her work. She says that she tried to sign Kanye West and John Legend to Arista, but Reid refused to let her sign them, and she believes it was partly out of spite. Dixon eventually quit Arista in 2004, and enrolled in Harvard Business School. However, she hasn’t worked at a major record company since then.

Reid (who was fired from Sony Music’s Epic Records in May 2017, because of alleged sexual harassment) and Simmons declined to be interviewed for the documentary. They each issued denial statements that are in the film. After the documentary was made, Simmons and rapper/actor 50 Cent made public statements pressuring executive producer Oprah Winfrey and Apple TV+ to drop the movie, which they eventually did. HBO Max acquired “On the Record” film after the movie’s well-received world premiere at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival.

In “On the Record,” Dixon says that there were three things that happened in the fall of 2017 that compelled her to go public with her accusations: (1) When screenwriter/producer Jenny Lumet (daughter of acclaimed filmmaker Sidney Lumet) came forward with her own accusations about being raped by Simmons; (2) when Dixon saw the courage of Roy Moore’s accuser Beverly Young, who claimed that the disgraced politician sexually assaulted her when she was an underage teenager; and (3) when Dixon saw the statement that actor Harold Perrineau made about his actress daughter Aurora, who came forward with sexual-assault accusations against writer Maury Miller.

Dixon comments, “I thought, ‘I’d like to be a warrior. I’m tired of being a victim. I’ve been a victim for 22 years. Let me see what the other thing feels like. It can’t be worse.’ And that’s when I said, ‘Okay. I will go on the record.'”

Another accuser of Russell Simmons in the film is writer Alexia Norton Jones, who talks about how her past trauma still affects her. “He took a piece of me with him and he carried it with him for three fucking decades,” she says of Simmons. Dixon comments on going public after keeping silent for several years: “It was like pressing play on a movie I had paused 22 years ago in the middle of the scariest scene.” Other accusers in the film include Sheri Sher, a founding member of the all-female rap group Mercedes Ladies; singer/songwriter Tina Baker; publicist Kelly Cutrone; and model Keri Claussen Khalighi.

Sil Lai Abrams, another Simmons accuser who claims that he raped her, was an executive assistant at Def Jam in the 1990s. She describes the work environment: “It didn’t feel like an office, so much as you were almost like in a club.” Abrams comments that although there is “tremendous mobility for women” in the music business, “a lot of sexual harassment was baked into the culture.” Dixon also mentions that when she began working for Def Jam, Lyor Cohen (who was president of the record company and Simmons’ second-in-command at the time), wrongly assumed that Dixon had slept with Simmons to get the job.

Although some of Simmons’ accusers are white (such as Baker, Cutrone and Khalighi), most of the Simmons accusers are black. #MeToo movement founder Tarana Burke says, “A lot of black women felt disconnected to #MeToo initially. They felt like, ‘That’s great this sister is out there. We support her as an individual, but this movement is not for us.”

“Intersectionality” author Kimberlé Crenshaw comments on how #MeToo accusations are handled and perceived: “America picks and chooses who they are going to listen to. Not only does class have an indicator, but what that person looks like is an indicator. So, who we listen to is who we see as valuable in America.”

Dr. Joan Morgan (a feminist/cultural critic) and author Shanita Hubbard also weigh in with their thoughts on how black women might experience the #MeToo movement differently from other people. “I thought the black community would hate my guts,” Dixon says in explaining one of the reasons why she was very reluctant to come forward with her accusations about Simmons, who was responsible for employing and financially enriching a lot of black people.

Kierna Mayo, a former writer/editor at The Source (a leading hip-hop magazine), has this to say about black #MeToo survivors: “It’s high time that the lens turns to us, and that we’re allowed to be heard—and more importantly to be believed.” Mayo says that she believes the Simmons accusers because she knows what it’s like to be alone with Simmons. In the documentary interview, she doesn’t come right out and say that she has a #MeToo story about him, but she hints that if she did, she’s not ready to talk about it on camera.

One of the more powerful moments in the film is when Dixon, Abrams and Lumet meet up to show support for each other.  Lumet says, “I didn’t expect anyone to be in it for the long haul with me. I’m glad I met you guys, because we’re in it for the long haul.”

The three women are also very candid in discussing colorism and admitting that being light-skinned black people gives them a “light privilege” advantage that people with darker skin might not have. Dixon comes right out and says: “Part of the reason why I did speak out is because I have ‘light privilege.'”

The documentary is undoubtedly sympathetic to the accusers and takes the viewpoint the accusers should not be vilified for how long it might have taken them to come forward, because every individual has a unique path in coming to terms with whatever trauma they experienced. Still, Lumet expresses guilt that is common for people who waited several years to tell their #MeToo stories: “I wish I could’ve gotten my shit together earlier so he [Russell Simmons] would’ve left everyone alone.”

“Off the Record” is a very female-centric movie, but there are a few men who are interviewed in the movie. Miguel Mojica, who was an A&R coordinator for EMI Records around the time that he knew Dixon back in the mid-1990s, says in the documentary that Dixon told him that Simmons raped her not long after it allegedly happened.

Mojica remembers that when he first met Dixon, “She was a bright spirit” and “we hit it off right away.” But he says she also changed after the alleged rape and wasn’t as light-hearted as she was when they first met. Other men interviewed in the movie are rapper/music producer Daddy-O and attorney Gary Watson, a former outside counsel to Def Jam.

Going public with the accusations wasn’t the only major life change for Dixon that’s chronicled in “Off the Record.” In the documentary, Dixon says that she asked her husband for a divorce, partly because of what she was going through with coming forward as a #MeToo survivor. (Dixon’s ex-husband and their two children are not in the movie.) But on the bright side, Dixon is shown taking steps to get back in the music industry, as there’s a scene of her mentoring a young singer named Ella Wylde.

Although Dixon gets the majority of the screen time compared to the other accusers, “On the Record” co-directors Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering don’t lose sight of the overall message that they obviously want the film to have: Sexual misconduct should not be excused because of someone’s race, and #MeToo survivors should not be shamed or pressured to keep silent because of their race.

HBO Max will premiere “On the Record” on May 27, 2020.

 

Harvey Weinstein sentenced to 23 years in prison, makes first public statement since his conviction of sex crimes

March 11, 2020

by Colleen McGregor

Harvey Weinstein at The Weinstein Company party in celebration of “Wind River” at Nikki Beach in Cannes, Frances, on May 20, 2017. (Photo by Dave Benett)

In a New York City courtroom on March 11, 2020, disgraced entertainment mogul Harvey Weinstein was sentenced to 23 years in prison for a first-degree criminal sexual act and a third-degree rape. Weinstein was found guilty of these charges on February 24, 2020. On the same day of his conviction, he was found not guilty of three other charges, which were more serious: two counts of predatory sexual assault and one count of first-degree rape involving two women (Miriam Haley and Jessica Mann) in separate incidents. The jury, consisting of seven men and five women, deliberated for nearly a week.

Weinstein’s prison sentence could have ranged from five years to 29 years. According to the Associated Press, Judge James Burke commented when delivering the 23-year sentence to Weinstein, who is 67: “Although this is a first conviction, this is not a first offense.” Weinstein, who did not testify during his trial, continues to deny all sexual-misconduct allegations against him.

After his sentencing, Weinstein gave his first public statement since he was convicted of these sex crimes. According to the Associated Press, Weinstein said, “To all the women who testified, we may have different truths, but I have great remorse for all of you … Thousands of men are losing due process. I’m worried about this country. I’m totally confused. I think men are confused about these issues.”

His attorneys are expected to appeal the conviction. His defense attorney Donna Rotunno commented after Weinstein’s prison sentence was delivered: “We were looking for fairness, and we didn’t get it.”

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. said that Weinstein’s sentence “puts sexual predators and abusive partners in all segments of society on notice.”

Weinstein is also facing sexual-assault charges in Los Angeles, where he is accused of raping one woman and sexually assaulting another woman on two consecutive nights during Oscars week in 2013. He is expected to be extradited to face trial in Los Angeles on those charges.

Weinstein was first arrested in May 2018, when he turned himself into the New York Police Department. He was arrested and charged with rape and forced oral sex. According to the Associated Press, the rape charge was for an unidentified woman who claims that Weinstein raped her at a New York hotel room in 2013. The oral sex charge was for a 2004 incident in which former aspiring actress Lucia Evans claims that Weinstein forced her to perform oral sex on him at his New York office.

In October 2018, the charge involving Evans was dismissed. According to CNN, Evans’ attorney Carrie Goldberg implied that the charge was dropped for political reasons because of a “feud between the NYPD and the DA’s office.” Goldberg added that the dropped charge “does speak to a system desperate in need of reform.”

Weinstein’s conviction and imprisonment for sex crimes are considered landmarks for the #MeToo movement, which became a major cultural force in October 2017, when the New York Times and the New Yorker reported that Weinstein has a long history of sexual misconduct allegations, going back as far as the 1980s. The reports detailed how he silenced many of his alleged victims with financial settlements and non-disclosure agreements. In the years since those reports were published, more than 100 women have come forward to claim that Weinstein sexually harassed or sexually assaulted them. Weinstein continues to claim that any sex acts he committed were consensual.

After the reports were published, Weinstein was fired by The Weinstein Company (the entertainment firm that Harvey co-founded in 2005 with his brother Bob); Harvey’s second wife, Georgina Chapman, divorced him; and the company filed for bankruptcy. The Weinstein Company has since been purchased by investment group Lantern Entertainment.

In March 2019, Lantern and Gary Barber launched Spyglass Media Group, which will own the library previously owned by The Weinstein Company. Italian film distributor Eagle Pictures, cinema chain Cineworld (which own Regal Cinemas) and later AT&T’s Warner Bros. were brought in as minority holders. The library includes Oscar-winning movies “The King’s Speech,” “The Artist,” “Inglourious Basterds,” “Django Unchained,” “The Hateful Eight,” “Silver Linings Playbook” and “The Iron Lady,” as well as partial ownership of the fashion reality TV competition “Project Runway.”

Before co-founding The Weinstein Company, the Weinstein brothers co-founded Miramax Films in 1979. Miramax was the studio behind numerous Oscar-winning films, such as “My Left Foot,” “Good Will Hunting,” “Shakespeare in Love” and “No Country for Old Men.” Miramax was sold to Disney in 1993, then to Filmyard Holdings in 2010, and then to the beIN Media Group in 2016. In 2019, beIN sold a 49% stake in Miramax to ViacomCBS.

Several industry organizations (including the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences) have expelled Harvey Weinstein from their membership, and he has been sued by several women for sexual harassment/sexual misconduct. Ashley Judd, one of his accusers, is also suing him for defamation because she claims Harvey Weinstein damaged her reputation and career after she rejected his sexual advances.

Since the accusations about Weinstein were made public, there have been several books, news stories and documentaries about his scandals. The most notable feature-length documentary so far about Weinstein is Hulu’s “Untouchable,” which began streaming in September 2019. The entertainment industry website Deadline reported in 2018 that Plan B (Brad Pitt’s production company) and Annapurna Pictures are planning a dramatic feature film about how The New York Times broke the Weinstein #MeToo story. The movie, if it’s made, will likely begin filming after all of Weinstein’s criminal cases have been resolved.

Harvey Weinstein’s downfall is widely considered to be the turning point of the #MeToo cultural movement, which has survivors of sexual harassment and sexual assault publicly telling their stories and seeking justice. The #MeToo movement has also led to sexual misconduct allegations against many other famous and powerful men, often resulting in the accused losing their jobs and/or being sued. Harvey Weinstein now joins Bill Cosby as two of the once-powerful men in the entertainment industry who have been convicted of sexual assault since the resurgence of the #MeToo movement.

Harvey Weinstein convicted of sex crimes, including rape

February 24, 2020

by Colleen McGregor

Harvey Weinstein at The Weinstein Company’s Pre-Academy Awards Dinner sponsored by Grey Goose at the Montage Hotel in Beverly Hills, California, on February 25, 2017. (Photo by Hagop Kalaidjian/BFA)

On February 24, 2020, in a New York City courtroom, disgraced entertainment mogul Harvey Weinstein was found guilty on two of five possible counts involving two women: a first-degree criminal sexual act and a third-degree rape. He was found not guilty of the three most serious charges: two counts of predatory sexual assault and one count of first-degree rape involving two women (Miriam Haley and Jessica Mann) in separate incidents. The jury, consisting of seven men and five women, deliberated for nearly a week.

The trial began on January 6, 2020, after experiencing many delays. Weinstein, who is 67, did not testify at his trial. After the verdict was read, Weinstein was immediately taken to jail, where he will be held until his sentencing on March 11, 2020. He faces up to 29 years in prison.

Weinstein is also facing sexual-assault charges in Los Angeles, where he is accused of raping one woman and sexually assaulting another woman on two consecutive nights during Oscars week in 2013.

Weinstein was first arrested in May 2018,  when he turned himself into the New York Police Department. He was arrested and charged with rape and forced oral sex. According to the Associated Press, the rape charge was for an unidentified woman who claims that Weinstein raped her at a New York hotel room in 2013. The oral sex charge was for a 2004 incident in which former aspiring actress Lucia Evans claims that Weinstein forced her to perform oral sex on him at his New York office.

In October 2018, the charge involving Evans was dismissed. According to CNN, Evans’ attorney Carrie Goldberg implied that the charge was dropped for political reasons because of a “feud between the NYPD and the DA’s office.” Goldberg added that the dropped charge “does speak to a system desperate in need of reform.”

A few famous actresses testified against Weinstein in his New York trial: Annabella Sciorra (who says that Weinstein raped her in her apartment in 1993 and 1994) and Rosie Perez, who testified that Sciorra told her about being raped shortly after the incident. Perez found out much later that Sciorra’s alleged rapist was Weinstein, but Perez did not go to police because Sciorra swore her to secrecy at the time.

According to the Associated Press, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. made this statement after the verdict was revealed: “This is the new landscape for survivors of sexual assault in America, I believe, and it is a new day. It is a new day because Harvey Weinstein has finally been held accountable for crimes he committed. Weinstein is a vicious, serial sexual predator who used his power to threaten, rape, assault and trick, humiliate and silence his victims. Weinstein with his manipulation, his resources, his attorneys, his publicists and his spies did everything he could to silence to survivors.”

Weinstein’s attorneys said that they will appeal the verdict. His defense attorney Donna Rotunno commented after the verdict was revealed: “Harvey is unbelievably strong. He took it like a man. He knows that we will continue to fight for him, and we know that this is not over.”

Weinstein’s conviction and imprisonment for sex crimes are considered landmarks for the #MeToo movement, which became a major cultural force in October 2017, when the New York Times and the New Yorker reported that Weinstein has a long history of sexual misconduct allegations, going back as far as the 1980s. The reports detailed how he silenced many of his alleged victims with financial settlements and non-disclosure agreements. In the years since those reports were published, more than 100 women have come forward to claim that Weinstein sexually harassed or sexually assaulted them. Weinstein has denied all the allegations, and says any sex acts he committed were consensual.

After the reports were published, Weinstein was fired by The Weinstein Company (the entertainment firm that Harvey co-founded with his brother Bob); Harvey’s second wife, Georgina Chapman, divorced him; and the company filed for bankruptcy. The Weinstein Company has since been purchased by investment group Lantern Entertainment.

In March 2019, Lantern and Gary Barber launched Spyglass Media Group, which will own the library previously owned by The Weinstein Company. Italian film distributor Eagle Pictures, cinema chain Cineworld (which own Regal Cinemas) and later AT&T’s Warner Bros. were brought in as minority holders. The library includes Oscar-winning movies “The King’s Speech,” “The Artist,” “Inglourious Basterds,” “Django Unchained,” “The Hateful Eight,” “Silver Linings Playbook” and “The Iron Lady,”  as well as partial ownership of the fashion reality TV competition “Project Runway.”

Several industry organizations (including the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences) have expelled Harvey Weinstein from their membership, and he has been sued by several women for sexual harassment/sexual misconduct. Ashley Judd, one of his accusers, is also suing him for defamation because she claims Harvey Weinstein damaged her reputation and career after she rejected his sexual advances.

Since the accusations about Weinstein were made public, there have been several books, news stories and documentaries about his scandals. The most notable feature-length documentary so far about Weinstein is Hulu’s “Untouchable,” which began streaming in September 2019. The entertainment industry website Deadline reported in 2018 that Plan B (Brad Pitt’s production company) and Annapurna Pictures are planning a dramatic feature film about how The New York Times broke the Weinstein #MeToo story. The movie, if it’s made, will likely begin filming after all of Weinstein’s criminal cases have been resolved.

Harvey Weinstein’s downfall is widely considered to be the turning point of the #MeToo cultural movement, which has survivors of sexual harassment and sexual assault publicly telling their stories and seeking justice. The #MeToo movement has also led to sexual misconduct allegations against many other famous and powerful men, often resulting in the accused losing their jobs and/or being sued.

Victoria’s Secret blasted by models, who sign open letter demanding protection from sexual misconduct in workplace

August 7, 2019

by Daphne Sorenson

Victoria’s Secret models backstage at the 2018 Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. (Photo by Heidi Gutman/ABC)

More than 100 models and several of their allies (including Models Alliance and Times Up) have signed an open letter to Victoria’s Secret CEO John Mehas to demand an end to the sexual abuse and sexual harassment that has allegedly been running rampant against Victoria’s Secret models.

The letter reads, in part: “In the past few weeks, we have heard numerous allegations of sexual assault, alleged rape, and sex trafficking of models and aspiring models. While these allegations may not have been aimed at Victoria’s Secret directly, it is clear that your company has a crucial role to play in remedying the situation.  From the headlines about L Brands CEO Leslie Wexner’s close friend and associate, Jeffrey Epstein, to the allegations of sexual misconduct by photographers Timur Emek, David Bellemere, and Greg Kadel, it is deeply disturbing that these men appear to have leveraged their working relationships with Victoria’s Secret to lure and abuse vulnerable girls.”

Most of the models who signed the open letter are not very well-known in the industry or are well-known models who are over the age of 30, such as Milla Jovovich, Emme, Doutzen Kroes, and Carolyn Murphy. Noticeably absent from the letter are supermodels who’ve been steadily employed by Victoria’s Secret in recent years, such as Gigi Hadid, Bella Hadid, Kendall Jenner, Behati Prinsloo, Jasmine Tookes, Barbara Palvin and Taylor Hill. Adriana Lima, who retired from Victoria’s Secret runway shows in 2018, was also not on the list of people who signed the letter.

L Brands (based in Columbus, Ohio) is the parent company of Victoria’s Secret.  The letter was published just two days after L Brands chief marketing officer Ed Razek publicly announced he was leaving the company. Wexner and Razek had close ties to convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, who was arrested again in July 2019, for sex crimes, specifically, for sex trafficking of women and underage girls.

Razek came under fire in 2018, when he said in a Vogue interview that Victoria’s Secret was not interested in hiring plus-sized or transgender models. In August 2019, Victoria’s Secret hired its first transgender model: Valentina Sampaio, who posted the news on her Instagram account.

The open letter blasting Victoria’s Secret is the latest blow to the company, which officially canceled the 2019 Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show only a few months after it was announced that the show would not be televised anymore. Victoria’s Secret and its Pink spinoff brand have also been experiencing a sharp decline in sales in recent years.

August 10, 2019 UPDATE: Convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein was found dead in his jail cell at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York City on August 10, 2019. According to the Associated Press, he died in the morning of an apparent suicide by hanging. The Associated Press also reports that although Epstein, who was 66, had been on suicide watch in the weeks leading up to his death, he was not on suicide watch at the time he was found dead. He had been denied bail while waiting to be put on trial on charges of sex-trafficking of underage girls. Of course, Epstein’s sudden death has fueled conspiracy theories that he might have been murdered to prevent him from exposing who his rich and powerful clients were in the sex crimes that Epstein was accused of committing.

R. Kelly scandal: Kelly charged with multiple counts of sexual assault

February 22, 2019

by Colleen McGregor

For the second time in his life, disgraced R&B singer R. Kelly, 52, is facing criminal charges for sex crimes. On February 22, 2019, the Cook County district attorney’s office in Illinois announced that Kelly has been charged with 10 counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse involving four victims in incidents that took place between 1998 and 2010. According to the Associated Press, three of the alleged victims were minors at the time the alleged abuse occurred. Kelly (whose full name is Robert Sylvester Kelly) is expected to appear at a bond hearing on February 23, and he will have his first court date on March 8. Kelly’s hometown is Chicago, but he has been living mainly in the Atlanta area for the past several years.

Kelly was arrested for multiple counts of child pornography in 2002. At the center of the trial was a videotape made in 2001 which prosecutors said showed Kelly having sex with a then-14-year-old girl, who was the daughter of one of Kelly’s band members. Kelly, who denied all the charges and said he wasn’t the man in the video, didn’t go on trial until 2008, and he was acquitted of all charges. The female in the sex video refused to testify in the trial, and some of the jurors later said in interviews that they could not convict Kelly without her testimony.

Kelly has admitted to settling numerous lawsuits over the years in which he was accused of sexual abuse,  but he has always denied all claims of sexual abuse against him. The Grammy-winning Kelly is best known for his hits “I Believe I Can Fly,” “Bump N’ Grind” and “Step in the Name of Love.”

Although Kelly seemingly survived the scandal in the years since the trial, the #MeToo and Times Up movements re-ignited protests against Kelly. A grass-roots movement called #MuteRKelly was formed in 2018, and was successful in getting several of Kelly’s concerts canceled and his music banned from some radio stations and streaming services. #MuteRKelly also spearheaded the pressure against Sony Music to cut ties with Kelly.

But the tipping point in the tide against Kelly was the Lifetime docuseries “Surviving R. Kelly,” which aired in January 2019. “Surviving R. Kelly” had interviews with more than 25 people (including his ex-wife Andrea) who either claimed to be victims of harrowing sexual abuse, were related to victims, or were former associates who saw the alleged abuse firsthand. The miniseries reiterated accusations that Kelly is a serial rapist/abuser whose known crimes go as far back as the 1990s, he has an obsession with underage girls, and he is currently abusing women in a “sex cult” environment. After “Surviving R. Kelly” aired and multiple groups staged protests outside of Sony Music’s offices, Sony Music dropped R. Kelly and made it public on January 18, 2019.

UPDATE: Kelly surrendered to authorities in Chicago on February 22, 2019 and pleaded not guilty. He was arrested again on March 6, 2019, for not paying $161,000 in child support to his ex-wife Andrea. Kelly was released on bail after an anonymous donor paid his child support and his bond. Before his arrest for not paying child support, Kelly gave an emotionally unhinged and paranoid interview with CBS News’ Gayle King, in which he shouted that he was innocent of all allegations, and he angrily stated he was the target of a conspiracy.

JULY 16, 2019 UPDATE:  R. Kelly was arrested again for an additional 18 counts, including federal sex-trafficking charges, on July 12, 2019. At a court hearing in Chicago on July 16, 2019, he pleaded not guilty and was ordered to be held without bond.

R. Kelly dropped by Sony Music; his ex-manager arrested for making terroristic threats

January 18, 2019

by Colleen McGregor

After facing immense public backlash, Sony Music has dropped Grammy-winning R&B singer R. Kelly, who has been accused of committing sexual abuse against women and underage girls as far back as the 1990s but has not yet been convicted of any such crimes. Kelly has repeatedly denied all allegations against him. According to Variety, Sony Music had been trying to sever ties with Kelly for several weeks, and made it official on January 18, 2019, when the company removed Kelly from its website. Sony has not yet issued a statement about dropping Kelly or the controversy over Kelly. Sony Music is the parent company of RCA Records, Kelly’s longtime record company. Kelly, whose full name is Robert Sylvester Kelly, was previously signed to Jive Records, which Sony shuttered in 2011. Jive’s former artists transferred to RCA. Although Kelly will not be releasing new music with RCA/Sony, his back catalog will remain with the record company. His last album with RCA/Sony was “12 Nights of Christmas,” which was released in 2016.

Meanwhile, Henry James Mason, a former manager of R. Kelly, turned himself into authorities on January 18 in Henry County, Georgia, for charges of threatening to kill Timothy Savage, the father of one of Kelly’s alleged victims, as well as threatening to harm members of the Savage family. Mason, who had a warrant out of his arrest since July 2018, has been released on $10,000 bail, according to Variety.

Timothy and JonJelyn Savage in "Surviving R. Kelly"
Timothy and JonJelyn Savage in “Surviving R. Kelly” (Photo courtesy of Lifetime)

Over the years, Kelly, who is 52, has been the subject of numerous stories of abuse against females, particularly underage girls. In 2008, he was acquitted of child pornography charges in which he was accused of videotaping himself having sex with and urinating on a then-14-year-old girl in 2001. Kelly was arrested for the crime in 2002, after the video was leaked to the public and widely bootlegged. The girl who was identified in the video refused to testify in the trial and denied that she was in the video. Complicating matters, the girl’s father worked for R. Kelly as a guitarist in his band before and after the trial. There were several people who knew the girl who testified at the trial, and most of them said that she was the girl in the video. (Her parents did not testify at the trial.) According to what a few of the jurors later told the media after the trial, the lack of testimony from the alleged victim was the main reason why they came to a “not guilty” verdict.

In 1994, Kelly had an illegal marriage to singer Aaliyah, who was 15 at the time they eloped, but who allegedly lied about her age (saying she was 18) at the time of the marriage ceremony. The marriage, which is on public record, was later annulled in 1995.

Sparkle, a former R. Kelly protégée, in “Surviving R. Kelly.” She says her niece was the underage girl in R. Kelly’s notorious sex video that got him arrested for child pornography in 2002. (Photo courtesy of Lifetime)

In 2017, BuzzFeed reported allegations from numerous people who said that Kelly had brainwashed women into becoming his sex slaves and is controlling them like a cult leader. Later that year, when the #MeToo movement became a major social force, a #MuteRKelly activist group was formed to urge cancellations and boycotting of all things related to R. Kelly. #MuteRKelly has been successful in getting several R. Kelly concerts cancelled. The #MuteRKelly movement led to the BBC Three network in the United Kingdom to do two news investigative specials on R. Kelly in 2018. The parents of the alleged victims who are still living with Kelly, as well as women who used to be sexually involved with Kelly, have also given numerous other media interviews.

However, the most influential tipping point in getting Sony Music to drop R. Kelly seems to be the Lifetime docuseries “Surviving R. Kelly,” which aired from January 3 to January 5, 2019, and included harrowing interviews with numerous women, such as his ex-wife Andrea, who say that R. Kelly physically, sexually and emotionally abused them. Most of the women were under the age of 18 when they began their sexual relationships with R. Kelly, and many of them were also interviewed in the BBC Three specials. The women who lived with Kelly said that he was so abusive that he would often starve them, beat them, and force them to engage in degrading sexual acts. Almost all of the women who were in long-term sexual relationships with Kelly said that he would isolate them from their family and friends, and they were afraid to leave him because he threatened their lives. They also said that he had so much control over them that he dictated when they could eat, use the bathroom, and talk to other people.

“Surviving R. Kelly” also included interviews with R. Kelly’s brothers Carey (who spoke out against him) and Bruce Kelly (who is supportive of R. Kelly and is currently in prison for theft and other charges) and R. Kelly’s former protégée Sparkle, who says her underage niece was in the infamous R. Kelly sex video. Other people who were interviewed included several former business associates (who all confirmed that R. Kelly had sexual relationships with underage girls) and some of the parents who claim that their daughters have been Kelly’s sex slaves. The parents say that because their daughters are adults and have apparently been forced to deny that Kelly abused them, it has been difficult to get authorities to intervene and rescue their daughters. However, “Surviving R. Kelly” did document how Michelle Kramer, one of the mothers of the alleged victims, was able to successfully get her daughter out of R. Kelly’s life.

According to Lifetime, “Surviving R. Kelly” had 1.9 million total viewers, making it Lifetime’s highest-rated new show in two years and highest-rated new unscripted show in three years. “Surviving R. Kelly” was executive produced by dream hampton, Tamara Simmons, Joel Karlsberg and Jesse Daniels for Kreativ Inc. which has a production deal with Bunim/Murray Productions (BMP). Brie Miranda Bryant from Lifetime is also one of the executive producers.

R. Kelly Accusers in “Surviving R. Kelly”

In the wake of “Surviving R. Kelly” and the public outcry for justice to be served, artists such as Lady Gaga and Chance the Rapper removed their collaborations with R. Kelly from streaming and online retail sites, made public apologies for associating with R. Kelly, and voiced their support for the survivors. In addition to having numerous hits as a solo artist (including “I Believe I Can Fly” and “Bump ‘N Grind”), Kelly wrote and/or produced hits for several major stars, including Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston and Jay-Z. Aaliyah, who died in a plane crash in 2001, started out as one of Kelly’s protégées, but parted ways with him after her first album and their marriage debacle.

The pressure against RCA/Sony to drop R. Kelly began to increase on January 11, when women’s group UltraViolet hired a plane flying to fly an anti-R. Kelly banner over Sony’s offices in Culver City, California. The banner read “RCA/Sony: Drop Sexual Predator R. Kelly.” Then on January 16, multiple advocacy groups organized a protest outside of Sony Music’s New York City headquarters and delivered a petition reportedly signed by more than 217,000 people to get the record company to sever ties with Kelly.

Neil DeGrasse Tyson scandal: National Geographic suspends ‘StarTalk’ while investigating sexual harassment allegations against Tyson

January 3, 2019

by Colleen McGregor

The National Geographic Channel (also known as NatGeo) has taken the science-oriented talk show “Star Talk” off the air during its investigation into sexual harassment claims against “StarTalk” host Neil DeGrasse Tyson. According to Variety, two women have gone public with their accusations: “Bucknell University’s Dr. Katelyn N. Allers claimed Tyson groped her at an event in 2009, while a former assistant, Ashley Watson, said Tyson made repeated inappropriate sexual advances toward her.” In addition, musician Tchiya Amet claims that Tyson raped her in the 1980s when they were both graduate students.

NatGeo, which is owned by Fox, announced in November 2018 that it was investigating the allegations. The fifth season of “StarTalk” aired three episodes, mostly recently on November 26, 2018. A NatGeo rep told Variety: “In order to allow the investigation to occur unimpeded we chose to hold new episodes of ‘StarTalk’ until it is complete. We expect that to happen in the next few weeks at which time we’ll make a final decision.” Tyson is also the host of “Cosmos: Possible Worlds,” which was set to premiere on Fox on March 3, 2019, and on NatGeo on March 4, 2019. The networks have not yet announced if “Cosmos: Possible Worlds” will be televised as planned.

Tyson, who has denied the allegations, is one of numerous celebrities who’ve been accused of sexual harassment during the #MeToo movement that arose during late 2017, when once-powerful public figures in media and entertainment (such as Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Louis C.K., Russell Simmons, Charlie Rose and Matt Lauer) lost their jobs after their alleged sexual misconduct acts that spanned decades were exposed by the news media. Weinstein is the only one who has been arrested for sexual assault (he is pleading not guilty), and Spacey is expected to be arrested and charged with sexual assault sometime in January 2019.

In a statement on his Facebook account, Tyson commented: “In any claim, evidence matters. Evidence always matters. But what happens when it’s just one person’s word against another’s, and the stories don’t agree? That’s when people tend to pass judgment on who is more credible than whom. And that’s when an impartial investigation can best serve the truth – and would have my full cooperation to do so.”

March 15, 2019 UPDATE: Fox and NatGeo have issued this joint statement: “The investigation is complete, and we are moving forward with both StarTalk’ and ‘Cosmos.’ ‘StarTalk’ will return to the air with the remaining 13 episodes in April on National Geographic, and both Fox and National Geographic are committed to finding an air date for ‘Cosmos.’ There will be no further comment.”

November 7, 2019 UPDATE: Indiewire has reported that “Cosmos: Possible Words” will premiere on March 9, 2020. According to Indiewire, the show “will venture through both time and space, starting at the dawn of the universe and moving to a futuristic 2039 New York World’s Fair, before moving further into the future.” The cast of “Cosmos: Possible Worlds” will include Seth MacFarlane (who’s an executive producer of the show) as President Harry Truman, Patrick Stewart as astronomer William Herschel, Viggo Mortensen as Soviet plant geneticist Nikolai Vavilov, and Judd Hirsch as atomic-bomb creator Robert Oppenheimer.

Bill Cosby sentenced to 3 to 10 years in prison for sexual assault

September 25, 2018

by Jim Larson

Bill Cosby
Bill Cosby at the 2014 American Comedy Awards in New York City (Photo courtesy of NBC)

On September 25, 2018, disgraced actor/comedian Bill Cosby received a prison sentence of three to 10 years for the felony sexual assault of Andrea Constand, who claims that he drugged and raped her in his Pennsylvania home in 2004. It’s a crime that he continues to deny because he says the sex was consensual. According to the Associated Press, Cosby was denied bail and “led away to prison in handcuffs.” Cosby’s wife Camille and his three surviving children were not present in the Norristown, Pennsylvania, courtroom where he received his sentence.

Cosby was found guilty of felony sexual assault in April 2018 in a second trial for the crime. The first trial, which took place in 2017, ended in a hung jury.

Since being arrested for the crime, Cosby’s legacy has been permanently tarnished. Several networks stopped showing reruns of his TV shows, numerous awards and honors he received over the years were rescinded, and his membership was canceled in many industry organizations, such as the Television Academy.

Les Moonves scandal: Longtime TV executive resigns as CBS Corp. chairman/CEO after sexual assault allegations; wife Julie Chen’s CBS tenure might also end

September 10, 2018

by Colleen McGregor

Longtime TV executive Les Moonves, 68, has exited his position as CBS Corp. chairman/CEO in a cloud of scandal, after The New Yorker published allegations from six women who claimed that he sexually assaulted them by violently forcing them to give him oral sex or sexually harassed them by ruining their careers after they refused his sexual advances. Moonves abruptly resigned after the story was published on September 9, 2018.

The allegations came after six other women accused him of the same misdeeds in the same time period (1980s to early 2000s) in a New Yorker article published in July. At the time, Moonves admitted that he made sexual advances to some of the women, but denied that he forced himself on anyone or retaliated if they refused his advances. The CBS board then voted to keep Moonves in his job while CBS would investigate the allegations. However, the additional number of accusers and the detailed stories that surfaced two months later were apparently too much, and Moonves (who was reportedly negotiating his exit package after the first wave of accusations were made public) stepped down and released this statement:

“For the past 24 years it has been an incredible privilege to lead CBS’s renaissance and transformation into a leading global media company. The best part of this journey has been working alongside the dedicated and talented people in this company. Together, we built CBS into a destination where the best in the business come to work and succeed. Untrue allegations from decades ago are now being made against me that are not consistent with who I am.  Effective immediately I will no longer be Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of CBS. I am deeply saddened to be leaving the company. I wish nothing but the best for the organization, the newly comprised board of directors and all of its employees.”

Les Moonves
Les Moonves at the CBS Upfronts in New York City in 2017 (Photo by Jeffrey R. Staab/CBS)

CBS announced that it would donate $20 million of Moonves’ salary to the Time’s Up movement that is aimed at assisting victims of sexual harassment and assault. However, when it was reported that the $20 million would be deducted from an approximate $100 million severance package that Moonves was reportedly getting, it sparked outrage on social media from people who think Moonves should not be receiving any severance pay. More outrage ensued when CBS said it would not release the outcome of the investigation conducted by two law firms hired by CBS to look into the accusations against Moonves.

The irony is that in December 2017, Moonves co-founded the Commission on Eliminating Sexual Harassment and Advancing Equality in the Workplace, which is chaired by Anita Hill.

Julie Chen, Moonves’ second wife whom he married in 2004 after a messy divorce from first wife Nancy, issued a statement after the accusations surfaced in July by saying that her husband was a “moral” man and that she stood by him. Chen and Moonves got romantically involved and openly dated while he was married to his first wife.

Chen, 48, is a co-host of CBS daytime talk show “The Talk” and the host of CBS reality show “Big Brother.” She was absent from “The Talk” on September 10, issuing that statement that she was taking time off to spend with her family. Chen and Moonves’ son Charlie was born in 2009. Moonves has three adult children from his first marriage.

Now that her husband has left his powerful position at CBS under scandalous circumstances, it might be a matter of time before Chen will leave CBS, regardless if the marriage ends in divorce or not. Chen’s career was so inextricably tied to Moonves and his position of power that it might be difficult for her to find work on a similar level at another network.

September 18, 2018 UPDATE: As expected, Chen did not return to “The Talk,” and officially resigned from the show in a videotaped message that aired on the show on September 18. In the message, Chen said that she was leaving “The Talk” to spend time with her husband and their son Charlie. She briefly got tearful during her statement, and she thanked her co-hosts and the rest of “The Talk” team for the time that she spent with them. Chen had been a co-host of “The Talk” since its 2010 debut. The search is on to find the person who will replace Chen on the show. “Dancing With the Stars” judge Carrie Ann Inaba, who has been filling in as a substitute, is considered a frontrunner for the job. Meanwhile, Chen will probably exit CBS once her contract ends as host of “Big Brother.”