“There’s a stereotype of [white women] being… docile and sweet, and innocent and pure, and if this ‘docile and sweet and innocent, pure’ can still get questioned, and not believed and discounted, what do you think is happening to black women in America when we come forward with stories about sexual violence?” — Shanita Hubbard
HBO Max’s May 27 launch debuted a line of “Originals” programming with a handful of platform-exclusive series, but only one film: a powerful and personal documentary about sexual abuse.
More specifically, the experiences of Def Jam A&R executive Drew Dixon and other women, mostly women of color in the hip-hop industry, who tell their personal stories of sexual abuse, including (but not exclusively) at the hands of hip-hop godfather Russell Simmons.
Dixon’s story is the primary focus, outlining her career and rise, keen eye for talent, and genuine love for the music and culture of hip-hop. She and others describe the specific experiences of black women encountering sexual harassment and violence, and why that distinction matters.
While all women who are sexually abused deal with the unimaginable emotional turmoil and public scorn that is so often unfairly dealt on survivors, these particular women were faced with additional concerns, deeply rooted to their cultural identity: Lending weight to ugly stereotypes of black men as being violent or hypersexual. Affirming black-on-black violence and misogyny in hip-hop. Damaging an industry and culture they love and toiled to help shape and create. Telling their stories in a culture where snitching is frowned on.
By focusing and elaborating primarily on one woman’s complete story and showing the emotional damage perpetrated by sexual violence, On The Record does what many descriptions, articles, or other records can’t — it bares the wound, takes you to heart of the pain, and shows you the lasting damage. With detailed descriptions of rape incidents and other abuses, this is not an easy watch — but it is a critical one.