Film & TV

On the Record: The Canned Language of Self-Described Victims 

Drew Dixon in On the Record. (HBO Max)
Free propaganda isn’t free even on HBO.

On the Record, the premium subscription film that HBO Max posted on Twitter for free viewing, wasn’t offered out of generosity but for indoctrination. On the Record is propaganda made on the divide-and-conquer principle of the progressive movement.

The music-industry documentary reportedly was greeted with a standing ovation at Sundance last January, where it won notice for its female-empowerment and male sexual-abuse themes. On the Record presents allegations by several black women that they were raped or harassed by Def Jam Records president Russell Simmons and harassed by Arista Records president L.A. Reid. Even if you don’t care about the subculture being scrutinized, the film is striking in its devious dismantling of sexual relationships in black culture.

On the Record represents a new kind of sensationalism. It was directed by the team Amy Ziering and Kirby Dick, the latter a specialist in agitprop disguised as journalism (the docs This Film Is Not Yet Rated, Outrage, The Invisible War, The Hunting Ground). Kirby Dick is not a muckraker, he’s a troublemaker.

Under Hollywood’s new dispensation of #MeToo, #TimesUp, and #BlackLivesMatter, Dick and Ziering propagate dissension and showcase the aggrieved women’s self-righteousness. The Washington Post mistakenly praised On the Record as “investigative filmmaking . . . and a crucially important historical text.” But outdated imagery on the film’s poster says otherwise: It depicts a broken record. Oops

Here’s what the broken record sounds like: It’s a one-sided conviction, without due process, similar to Leaving Neverland, HBO’s sickening assault on Michael Jackson that, despite Oprah Winfrey’s endorsement, was eventually debunked. Winfrey was also the original producer of On the Record but withdrew her name and support after Simmons challenged her — millionaire-to-billionaire — about her recent gender bias.

I can’t litigate this film’s allegations, but any honest, alert viewer should notice the angle of On the Record’s testimonies. The elephant on screen is linguistic: These black women are already so thoroughly indoctrinated in the rhetoric of grievance that they can only express themselves in social-justice terms. (Their self-description is “We’re all light-skinned, we’re all attractive” and beneficiaries of “light privilege.”) Their language is corrupted — “empowerment,” “activism,” “women of color,” “class indicator” — even as they try to distinguish themselves from/or within white feminist movements.

The result is that On the Record’s black showbiz participants and academics (Sil Lai Abrams, Sherri Hines, Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, Kierna Mayo, Joan Morgan, and others) reduce their culture for white-liberal-approved standards. The irony is in their cooperation with music-industry sexism despite their complaints about “words like ‘bitch’ and ‘ho’ coming into the music.” And they complain about videos that were “clearly a statement against a large majority of black women and how we look . . . ideology that had been spread by defenders of slavery.”

Among the film’s weakest segments is a montage designed to show that “hip-hop certainly did not invent misogyny,” using pointless clips of the Beatles, Tom Jones, the Rolling Stones, the Misfits, Guns N’ Roses. This facile context cannot contain the unnerving confession “I was reduced to nothing. I was trash. I was a physical item. I was something that he utilized for his pleasure.” Neither should such devastation follow their grumbling that “the earning power of people at the very top are white men and at the very bottom are women of color.” But Ziering and Dick merely follow #MeToo agitprop formulas.

The interviews use frequent, trusting reliance on the New York Times’ publication of the first accusations against Simmons, which instigated others. This dependence on media as a source of validation verges on fanaticism. The accusers recite phrases and canards like prisoners in a reeducation camp. Feminist newspeak makes On the Record resemble a black version of the Kavanaugh hearings in which males are assailed, without self-defense, seemingly for political reasons.

On the Record’s politics seem most dubious when based on its key witness, the likable and sympathetic Drew Dixon who professes a familiar love of hip-hop music and culture:

Hip-hop had this additional appeal to me as a sort of black movement that was empowering people who were otherwise lost and overlooked. I grew up as the daughter of black politicians and this was my mission. . . Hip-hop combined two things that I loved: activism and this sense of pride with music and it seemed like, I thought, it could sort of change the world.

It gets worse as Dixon relates her disenchantment with hip-hop to her discovery of slavery during a family trip to Ghana: “The intentional breakdown of the black male-female dynamic from the beginning. It’s time for someone to acknowledge the plunder of black women.”

Dixon, who began her Def Jam music career after leaving Stanford University, is the daughter of former Washington, D.C., mayor Sharon Pratt Dixon, but her alarming unworldliness seems another consequence of the hip-hop generation’s naïveté. Music, politics, and sex combined inconsistently — sometimes disastrously — harming Dixon and her peers, who never received adequate practical or moral guidance. What’s left is a grievance culture, newly victimized by propagandists such as Ziering and Dick.

In a review titled “Empathy and Its Limits,” Pauline Kael lamented that Paul Mazursky’s An Unmarried Woman (released in 1978 and newly reissued on Criterion Blu-Ray) “takes refuge in the new women’s rhetoric.” A similar exploitation occurs in On the Record when Ziering and Dick neglect psychology (they seem incapable of it, really). As in the recent Surviving R. Kelly doc, feminist anger doesn’t prevent these women coming off like weepy harpies.

The free viewings of On the Record are not without cost. They connect to Black Lives Matter’s official agenda to destroy the traditional family, including that “black male-female dynamic” that apparently Dixon’s politician mother never taught her about. Ziering and Dick’s all-encompassing feminism only proves that some black girls can be as poorly raised as some white girls.

Armond White, a culture critic, writes about movies for National Review and is the author of New Position: The Prince Chronicles. His new book, Make Spielberg Great Again: The Steven Spielberg Chronicles, is available at Amazon.

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