Last week, music mogul and entrepreneur Russell Simmons, who has been accused of rape or sexual misconduct by multiple women, made an appearance on “The Breakfast Club” morning show during which he spent a good portion of the interview attempting to refute accusations levied against him in the recent documentary “On The Record,” which is currently streaming on HBO Max.
Following the interview, the Time’s Up organization responded to several of Simmons comments; as did Drew Dixon and Sil Lai Abrams (two of Simmons’ accusers who appear in “On The Record”).
Simmons’ “Breakfast Club” comments about teaching his daughters to put up boundaries invoked outrage from Dixon, who tweeted: “Teaching your daughters to have ‘boundaries’ and say ‘no’ won’t protect them from rapists like you … I said ‘NO’… ‘STOP’… ‘PLEASE’… ‘I’M BEGGING YOU’… and CRIED, while you ripped off my clothes, pinned me down and told me to stop fighting. F— all the way off.”
Sil Lai Abrams took the show to task for having Simmons as a guest, tweeting: “Toxic is an understatement. Shame on @breakfastclubam @cthagod @djenvy and @angelayee for giving this man a pass and being blatant rape apologists. Black women’s lives matter, too.”
Variety reached out to Angela Yee, the sole female co-host of “The Breakfast Club” to respond to the backlash that came not just from the women featured in “On The Record,” but the public as well.
How difficult is it being the only woman on your show? Does it make it worse when you have a guest who has been accused of crimes against women?
There are definitely challenges that come with being the only woman in any room, and on a show like “The Breakfast Club,” with strong opinions, it can be hard to get the guys to see things from my point of view. Even talking about things that may seem like a no-brainer to me, we just saw the episode of [VH1’s] “T.I. & Tiny’s Friends and Family Hustle.” I was trying to explain how invasive it is for a father to police their daughter’s body and the damage that can do to a woman mentally. They may look at that as just being a good father and they won’t understand where I’m coming from.
Did you, Envy and Charlamagne Tha God discuss who would be asking which questions of Russell Simmons?
No, we never discuss that before an interview.
Russell Simmons cut you off several times during the interview, did you feel like you had a harder time asking him questions than Envy or Charlamagne?
I think in general the Zoom interviews are harder because of the slight delay and then trying to jump in and ask questions can be more difficult. But I did feel like he didn’t want to be challenged on what he was saying.
Will “The Breakfast Club” be interviewing Drew Dixon, Sheri Hines or Sil Lai Abrams?
HBO reps reached out to me directly because I just worked on the amazing “I May Destroy You” premiere with them, and I told them I would absolutely want to give the women the same platform. Then a rep for Sil Lai contacted me and I did a one-on-one interview with her so that she can be heard because she deserves that.
Did you see the backlash about the Russell Simmons interview on Twitter? Do you understand why some people would have issues with Russell being a guest on the show?
I definitely saw the backlash and I knew there would be some. I know for survivors it would be triggering to hear any man who has been accused of rape and assault plead [his] case.
Have you seen “On The Record” or read or watched any interviews with Drew Dixon or her peers? What did you think?
I watched the documentary after Russell’s interview. Truthfully, I believe that [“Breakfast Club] interview actually drove more traffic for people wanting to see the other side. I feel like the doc hasn’t gotten much coverage and most of the news was about the drama with Oprah pulling out and people attacking her for being involved in the first place with producing it.
Were you offended by anything that Russell Simmons said during the interview?
Yes, him saying that these claims are old, but we know that it may take a woman years and even decades to feel safe and empowered enough to speak on rape and/or sexual assault. Look at how long Harvey Weinstein was able to commit these crimes and almost get away with it.
At one point Russell Simmons said he believed his accusers believed themselves, do you think it’s possible that he didn’t understand consent, as some have posited in the wake of the #MeToo movement?
It feels like he may have convinced himself that he was just a playboy and treated women badly, but nothing was violent because he didn’t punch or fight these women. But rape in itself is violent, when these women say they were pinned down and saying no. Having sex with a woman who is too high or drunk to give consent is rape. We may dismiss it and say that it was a different era but I believe there are more men who wouldn’t participate in this type of behavior than men who would have. And there are so many movies that portray drunken sex as if it’s normal that a woman may second guess or blame herself. Society makes victims feel that they put themselves in a compromising position and therefore share in the responsibility of being violated.
Was it disturbing that Russell Simmons admitted he went to Bali to get away from the media?
I’m sure it’s no coincidence that he chose Bali where there’s no extradition treaty to the U.S. I don’t think anyone would admit that.
Do you think Russell Simmons took a different tone with you than Charlamagne or Envy?
Yes, it felt more dismissive. It may be that in the first part of the interview I didn’t have anything to say so maybe he took offense to that.
Time’s Up sent out a response to the “Breakfast Club” interview. Is that something you would discuss on the air?
Yes, I saw it and read it. Of course I would share it, and we actually discuss many of the points in my interview with Sil Lai.
What did you think about Simmons mentioning that he had dated prominent women like Robin Givens, Troi Beyer, Stacey Dash and Shari Headley in the ’80s and ’90s?
It doesn’t matter. He said these are character witnesses for him but as I pointed out, his experience with these women doesn’t negate what may have happened with others.
During the interview, you suggested that Simmons’ accusers can’t be out for money if they haven’t filed civil charges; what did you think of his reaction?
I think Russell did an amazing job of controlling the narrative and the direction of the interview. I don’t think an explanation of these accusations is that these women want attention or fame. You can’t say that they are after money, so what would be the reason? And believe me, no one wants to go after a beloved figure in our community because you automatically know the majority of people won’t believe you and your identity will be “the Russell Simmons accuser” forever.
What was the most difficult part of the interview and aftermath for you?
People saying “The Breakfast Club” is negative and toxic, because that’s simply not true and certainly never my intention. We have moments I’m not proud of, and yes, we can always do better, but we have also done a lot of amazing things. The same people who will tear down the platform are the ones who don’t promote the all-day radiothons we did raising millions for HBCUs, the Gathering for Justice, mental health awareness. I refer callers to therapists directly, we’ve been really active in trying to provide information during coronavirus and the ongoing police brutality, and I personally dedicate a lot of my time to being active in the community. I also don’t believe interviewing someone is a cosign. I know how difficult it is to be not just a woman, but a black woman, and I know how much we get attacked and our voices aren’t heard. I experience it every single day. I would never not offer Drew Dixon, Sil Lai, Jenny Lumet, Sheri Sher, or any of the women the platform to be heard.
Update: Parts of Angela Yee’s interview with Sil Lai Abrams aired on “The Breakfast Club” Wednesday, June 17 (watch it below) after which Abrams wrote on Twitter: “This was a wonderful opportunity to speak with @angelayee, but harm was done by the show and it isn’t unreasonable to wonder if @djenvy and @cthagod would acknowledge how they screwed up. Angela shouldn’t have to take one for the team just because she’s the only woman on the show.”