Monday, July 20, 2020

On The Record is a Fascinating Exploration of Voices So Often Silenced

CW: Discussions of sexual assault

In the wake of the creation of the Me Too movement, voices of sexual assault survivors have begun to get elevated in a way that just hasn't been the norm for American society. But that doesn't mean all sexual assault survivor voices have been given equal treatment. As explored in the documentary On the Record, Black women who have had sexual assault experiences face extra struggles trying to get their stories told or even in just feeling like their experiences are worth sharing. Even as awareness increases regarding how rampant sexual assault is, the world still turns away from struggles pertaining to Black women sexual assault survivors.

The documentary On the Record is here to help amplify the voices of those so often silenced. Specifically, it relays anecdotes from women who either work in or are adjacent to the music industry who have leveled sexual assault allegations at former Def Jam records executive Russell Simmons. The most prominent of these women is Drew Dixon, who went into Def Jam with a love for music and, in her role as a producer, a passion for bringing big projects together. However, Simmons' constant advances towards her eventually escalated into him outright raping her. Shortly thereafter, Dixon left Def Jam for Arista Records only to see, per her allegations, music executive L.A. Reid committed numerous sexual advances on her.

That's when Dixon left the music industry for good. In her stories, one gets the horrifying portrait of Dixon being trapped in a world where there is no escape from powerful men who feel entitled to women as objects. There is no stopping figures like Simmons not just because of the influence they carry but also because the pop culture image they present. A well-edited montage in On the Record shows Simmons in the modern world showing up on Snoop Dogg's podcast, promoting a self-help book, being cheerful on the red carpet. He's cultivated a media persona meant to instill a sense of comfort in the viewer. Seeing that persona everywhere around the world, it's easy to see why Dixon felt so powerless for so long when it came to her experiences with Simmons.

Other obstacles standing in the way of Dixon include specific hurdles facing Black women who want to come out about sexual assault experiences with Black men. As noted in interview segments throughout On the Record, there can be this worry that coming forward about these stories only helps to reinforce wretched racist stereotypes popularized by white people. Specifically, the (obviously false) stereotype about Black men being inherently sexual predators. For a woman like Dixon, grappling with sharing her experiences isn't just her struggling with whether or not she'll be believed. Also weighing on her mind is how this will impact the perception of the Black community as a whole.

This perspective is explored in an insightful manner through a number of fascinating interview subjects including KimberlĂ© Crenshaw and Sil Lai Abrams. Their explanations of unique struggles facing Black women survivors of sexual assault are concisely rendered without sacrificing the urgency of this subject matter in the name of brevity. Dixon's anecdotes are especially powerful, with her stories about life after leaving the music industry being particularly devastating. The quiet anguish filling her voice when recounting this chapter of her life makes it clear how much of a blow it was to have something she was so passionate about tainted like that.

Further interesting explorations found throughout the interviews include recurring mentions of light privilege, a term referring to societally-ingrained advantages given to women of color with lighter skin. It's a phrase I personally hadn't heard of prior to On the Record but one that proved quite useful in helping to illuminate the finer nuances of the topic of privileges for certain members of marginalized groups. On the Record is certainly an informative viewing but it's also well-made documentary filmmaking that shines a light on voices that get silenced in American society. With On the Record, the volume on these voices gets turned up thanks to unflinchingly personal interviews from individuals like Dale Dixon

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