On November 19th, Russell Simmons wrote a letter in the Hollywood Reporter denouncing the sexual assault allegations from model Keri Claussen Khalighi. A week later, Russell Simmons has stepped down from his companies amidst another allegation of sexual assault – this time by screenwriter Jenny Lumet.
In a guest column in the Hollywood Reporter, Lumet accuses the Def Jam co-founder of forcing her to have sex in 1991. In a statement, Simmons said he had a different recollection of their encounter, but said that Lumet’s “feelings of fear and intimidation are real.” He apologized to Lumet, who is the daughter of director Sidney Lumet and the screenwriter behind The Mummy and Rachel Getting Married.
“There is so much guilt, and so much shame,” Lumet wrote in her column. “There is an excruciating internal reckoning. As a woman of color, I cannot express how wrenching it is to write this about a successful man of color. Again, shame about who I was years ago, choices made years ago. In this very moment, I feel a pang to protect your daughters. I don’t think you are inclined to protect mine.”
For his part, Simmons said, “While I have never been violent, I have been thoughtless and insensitive in some of my relationships over many decades and I sincerely and humbly apologize.”
In addition to his music work, Simmons is a successful film and television producer and the founder of such clothing fashion lines as Phat Farm and Tantris.
Simmons admitted the culture is going through “a time of great transition,” and said he did not want to be a distraction from the work of his companies. He also plans to convert a studio he founded for yogic science into a not-for-profit center of learning and healing.“The companies will now be run by a new and diverse generation of extraordinary executives who are moving the culture and consciousness forward,” said Simmons, adding, “As for me, I will step aside and commit myself to continuing my personal growth, spiritual learning and above all to listening.”
HBO has cut ties with Simmons following the sexual assault allegations against him. The network announced that the Def Comedy Jam reboot, All Def Comedy, will premiere as planned, but Simmons will no longer be attached.
The music, fashion and entertainment mogul is the latest high profile figure to be entangled in a sexual harassment or assault scandal. In recent weeks, Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Charlie Rose and Matt Lauer have all been accused of sexual misconduct or crimes of sexual assault and as a result blackballed in their respective industries.
We commend the women who have spoken out against these powerful men and we wonder if the accusations against Simmons are the tip of the iceberg in the hip-hop industry.