Is black entertainment having its #MeToo moment?

Drew Dixon in On The Record
Former Def Jam employee Drew Dixon has accused Russell Simmons of rape

Last week, executives in the UK music industry were invited to watch the new HBO documentary On The Record.

It follows the story of Drew Dixon going public about her alleged rape by Russell Simmons, the former chief executive of record label Def Jam, which signed artists like LL Cool J, the Beastie Boys and Public Enemy.

Dixon was a music executive who worked on some of the biggest hits of a generation, including Whitney Houston’s My Love is Your Love and Method Man featuring Mary J Blige’s You’re All I Need.

She spent her teens scribbling the lyrics of songs in the back of her binder at school. At university, her vision board included her favourite artists and record labels and a picture of Simmons – because he had the job she aspired to have.

But she walked away from the industry after the alleged assault.

“Black women are considered expendable, while black men are considered privileged enough to protect,” she tells BBC News.

“There are 20 women who have come forward with allegations of sexual misconduct against Russell Simmons, there are many more women who have come to me privately with very serious allegations against Russell Simmons.”

Russell Simmons
Russell Simmons has said “all of my relations have been consensual”

Simmons vehemently denied the allegations when they emerged in 2017. He said: “These horrific accusations have shocked me to my core and all of my relations have been consensual. I have enormous respect for the women’s movement worldwide and their struggle for respect, dignity, equality and power.”

Police opened an investigation at the time but he has not been arrested or charged. The original allegations were among the few stories from the music industry during the peak of the #MeToo movement in 2017.

The #MeToo founder, Tarana Burke, has said: “Black women did not feel the movement was for them.” But, maybe galvanised by the Black Lives Matter movement, are black women finding their voice? Could this be the #MeToo moment of black music and entertainment?

The voices aren’t just coming from the United States. In the UK, there’s a list of names of alleged perpetrators being shared around the British music industry, which is forcing it to face an uncomfortable, long and overdue conversation.

Sheri Hines, Sil Lai Abrams and Drew Dixon at the documentary's premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in January
Dixon (right) with fellow accusers Sheri Hines (left) and Sil Lai Abrams at the documentary’s premiere in January

“I think we have a long way to go,” Dixon says.

“And I think the overlapping spheres in black entertainment are so tight that if Russell Simmons is held accountable, they’re worried, where will it stop? Who else maybe implicated?

“I think they worry that there might not be a bottom and that it might really dismantle the entire structure and hierarchy of power in black entertainment.”

She says people could do more to show support when black women, in particular, come forward.

“The black community is still very quiet about it. The same people who are offended about statues, confederate soldiers who raped our women and are furious about those statues, the same people are propping up Russell Simmons. It’s so painful and it’s so ironic.”

Recent allegations

Last month, singer Ray BLK took to Twitter to detail an alleged assault by rapper Ambush. He apologised for his behaviour. Veteran DJ Tim Westwood has denied allegations of inappropriate sexual behaviour towards young fans after rumours surfaced on social media.

Slime Recordings Group said it was “working with its distribution partner to remove” Mind of A Dragon’s music after allegations were made public, which he denies.

Several allegations have been made against a number of dance and EDM DJs. The former CEO of OkayPlayer, Abiola Oke, has denied allegations of sexual assault after stepping down from his position at the media company.

‘No respect for black women’

DJ Melody Kane has been in the industry for more than 12 years and says it needs to change fast.

“There’s an attitude where because it’s a black women, it’s allowed,” she says. “The industry has no respect for black women, especially dark skinned women. There’s a disrespectful side of it and it is rife in the industry.”

There are many reasons other than just fear preventing black women coming forward, she says. “I believe it’s a case of, ‘We won’t be believed’. Plus there’s always a guilt that it’s been encouraged because it’s a friendly, flirty industry and the UK black music industry is very small. Everyone knows everyone.”

The music industry is a hideously white environment, especially when it comes to those wielding power. House DJ Funk Butcher agrees and has been trying to encourage the black music community to come together – not only to fight systemic racism, but to ask black men, in particular, to stand up for black women.

‘Women’s voices aren’t being amplified’

“Black men need to be actively and explicitly calling out these things when they happen,” he says. “It is essential. And not just on an industry level, it’s a day-to-day thing.”

He says the silence is deafening when it comes to allegations of abuses within the industry.

“The need to protect the industry and the need to protect profit margins supersedes these women’s rights. People ignore them. Certain black voices – female voices aren’t being amplified.”

The number of women or men coming forward in the black entertainment industry is by no means on the same scale as it happened during the 2017 #MeToo movement. But notable ripples are being felt.

Dixon has one last thought she hopes will resonate with people: “I would say to every black person who is calling for structural change around racism, to call for structural change around patriarchy and misogyny in this industry… and in our own community.”

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