Jenny Lumet’s Accusation of Sexual Misconduct Level Russell Simmons
It is past time that we deal with the truth and depth of this problem on multitudinous levels.
Hollywood and mainstream media outlets are being rocked by an onslaught of accusations of sexual misconduct by some of the industries most noted and powerful men. This movement, dubbed the “Me Too” movement, developed momentum when multitudinous allegations were levied against Hollywood powerhouse, Harvey Weinstein. Since those allegations against Weinstein surfaced, there has been a steady flood of allegations against some very notable names including, Charlie Rose, Matt Lauer, Gleen Thrush, U.S. Sen. Al Franken, Roy Moore and a host of other celebrities and media powerbrokers. Most recently, music mogul and entrepreneur, Russell Simmons, became the target of allegations of sexual misconduct. The initial accusation came from model, Keri Claussen Khalighi, which was immediately rebutted and denied by Simmons; however, that accusation was followed by a letter to Russell penned by screenwriter Jenny Lumet. The letter has been published publically and you can read it in its entirety below.
While most Blacks will be emotionally disconnected from the revelations of these allegations — outside of the sensationalism associated with it — we should not be so quick to dismiss it as not having anything to do with us. What is happening on the grand stage of Hollywood and mainstream media is only a microcosm of a much larger dilemma and the Black community is not exempt. In fact, it is my assessment that sexual deviancy, as a psychopathology, is rampant in the Black community, although it remains well-hidden. Over 60 percent of Black women admit to being sexually abused as a child — a number that is far beyond statistically significant. Young Black girls and boys (one in six men admit to being sexually abused a child [the number is likely higher due to the fact men are less likely to report these incidents because of the negative stigma associated with it]) are suffering and there is no systematic mechanism in place to help them deal with their issues and there is no code of conduct in place to hold the violators of their innocence accountable.
The silent condonation that underwrites this behavior is a major stumbling block in breaking free of it. The manner in which the victims are shamed and even demonized interrupts any attempt at healing and becoming whole again. Because these type of violations against the sanctity and innocence of our youth and our women go unchecked, the lack of trust and the dysfunctionality created by these horrific acts make it virtually impossible for Blacks, as a collective, to unify and create a true community environment through which we can grow and prosper. It is time to address this issue in no uncertain terms. ~ Rick Wallace, Ph.D., Psy.D.
Screenwriter Jenny Lumet ~ Grandaughter of Lena Horne and daughter filmmaker Sidney Lumet
I met you around 1987, through Rick Rubin, who has always been kind to me. Rick knew my sister through NYU and asked me, at the upstairs bar in a nightclub called the Palladium, to be in a movie you were producing that Rick was directing, starring RUN DMC. It was, frankly, a lousy movie, and I was terrible in it.
Over the next three or four years, I would see you out and about, at a nightclub called Nell’s mostly. I don’t recall you and I ever just going out to dinner, or having a one-to-one experience; we were always in groups, and we had many, many mutual friends. You were charming and funny and charismatic and self-deprecating. Not being in the music business made it possible for me to relax around you. And you were a fan of my grandmother, respected her, and told me so. You seemed sincere.
You pursued me, lightly, on and off, over a course of years, saying you had a thing for a “little yellow girl” (me). I rebuffed. It wasn’t deep, as far as I knew. It was never a big deal. You had, I assumed, many women in your orbit.
Once you sent me 250 balloons with the note “Please baby, please baby, baby, baby, baby” after a character in a Spike Lee movie. It was light, fun and flattering. We continued to socialize in the same places. We continued to have a large group of mutual friends.
One night circa 1991, when I was around 24, I was at a restaurant called Indochine. I had worked there when I was 17, as the coat check girl, and I enjoyed returning. I still knew some of the staff at this point and felt quite comfortable there. I remember I was wearing one of the Azzedine Alaia tops that were everywhere that year. And hoop earrings. I think it was cool enough for a jacket. Because I remember being glad I had a jacket by the end of that night.
You had a car and a driver that evening. Sometime later, you offered me a ride to my home. I said, “Sure.” During the making of the RUN DMC movie, I had been in vans with you and other crew members. I don’t recall having accepted a ride home alone with you before that night.
At no time that night did I say: “Russell, I will go home with you.” Or “Come home with me.” Or “I will have sex with you.” Or “I have the desire to have sex with you.”
I believe it was an SUV because I recall having to step up into the car. I don’t know about makes or models. I think the driver was already in the car.
I got into the car with you. The driver began to drive. I assumed you knew where I lived because you had sent me 250 balloons, but I gave the driver my address on 19th Street and 2nd Avenue.
You said to the driver: “No.”
I didn’t understand, so I said: “Russell?”
I said, again, to the driver: “19th Street.”
Again you said to the driver: “No.”
Then the car doors locked. It was loud. The noise made me jump.
I didn’t recognize you at that moment. It was disorienting. It was disorienting. I say it twice now because you said “No” twice then.
I couldn’t open the doors. I couldn’t open the windows. The car was moving. The driver did not stop. He did not take me to 19th Street. He took me to your apartment.
I didn’t try to kick the windows out. I didn’t punch or kick. I didn’t say, “What are you doing?” My voice left me after the second “No.”
I felt dread and disorientation. I wanted to go home. I said I wanted to go home. I didn’t recognize the man next to me. I didn’t know if the situation would turn violent. I remember thinking that I must be crazy. I remember hoping that the Russell I knew would return any moment.
The car stopped at the curb. I don’t recall the street. I recall the driver opening the door from the outside, and you behind me. I was between the two of you. Not wedged, just in the space between you. I remember exchanging a look with the driver. He was unreadable. It was chilly out. It was me and these two men.
I felt dread. I was tremulous. Off my feet. I felt an intense need to keep both of you calm. Was there a time or a space to run? I have no idea. Would somebody else have run? I have no idea. There were two men. One of whom obeyed the other. It was an overwhelming feeling.
There was no well-lit lobby or doorman at the entrance we used. I would guess it was not the main entrance to the building. I believe there was a door from street level that opened into a space beneath the residential area of the building, in which there was a small back elevator. If I am wrong about the layout, then I am wrong. There were two men, and I was afraid.
You didn’t punch me, drag me or verbally threaten me. You used your size to maneuver me, quickly, into the elevator. I said, “Wait. Wait.” I felt dread. I was very, very sad. I didn’t know if the driver was a further threat or an ally. I was both relieved and terrified when he did not get into the elevator. Alone in the elevator, you pressed me into the corner with your body, your hands and your mouth.
The elevator did not stop on the way up to your apartment. I was moved very quickly inside. I recall hearing the apartment door closing behind us.
I saw no one else. I recall you were behind me. I was still hoping the Russell I knew would reappear, as I could not recognize the man moving me deeper into the apartment — the man who had said “No” to his driver. Twice.
You moved me into a bedroom. I said, “Wait.” You said nothing.
I made the trade in my mind. I thought, “Just keep him calm, and you’ll get home.” Maybe another person would have thought differently, or not made the trade.
It was dark but not pitch-dark. You closed the door.
At that point, I simply did what I was told.
There was penetration. At one point you were only semi-erect and appeared frustrated. Angry? I remember being afraid that you would deem that my fault and become violent. I did not know if you were angry, but I was afraid that you were.
I desperately wanted to keep the situation from escalating. I wanted you to feel that I was not going to be difficult. I wanted to stay as contained as I could.
You told me to turn over on my stomach. You said something about a part of my body. You did not ejaculate inside me.
When it was over, I got my clothes and quickly went down in the elevator by myself. You didn’t try to stop me. I went home in a taxi. I was grateful to be secure in my home. I never told anyone this story until October 27 of this year (after the Harvey Weinstein story was in the news but weeks before the first public claims were made against you), when I told a girlfriend from childhood.
“Abusing women in any way, shape or form violates the very core of my being.” — Russell Simmons
We encountered each other socially many times after that night. We had a score of mutual friends. We may have been photographed proximately, or together. The dynamic between us was different, muted. I never sought you out, nor did I run from a place or event upon seeing you. I feel confident in saying we nodded at each other, said hello. I strove for an effect of normalcy. And I never said anything to you about that night. You have never said anything to me.
Specifically, we saw each other at the Vanity Fair Party after the Academy Awards in 2005, the year my father won the Lifetime Achievement Award. I saw you again at the NAACP Image Awards, briefly, in 2009. I believe you were there with your daughters. We both accepted awards that night. I encountered you at a party in Los Angeles before the 2011 Academy Awards, during which there was a planned tribute to my grandmother, who had just passed away. These were events that were supposed to be happy, and they were tainted.
I don’t recall ever meeting any of the women who have spoken out against you, Russell. But I can’t leave those women twisting in the wind. Maybe the recalling of this incident can be helpful. I don’t know if it can.
I have built a life in the past 25 years and a reputation in my industry. I need no one to have this visualization of me. I will, like the others, lose work because of this. I realize how privileged I am to be able to risk that. I have children. I’m aware that every mistake, act of thoughtlessness, hypocrisy or cruelty I’ve committed in my 50 years will be excavated, and they’ll see all of it.
There is so much guilt, and so much shame. 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.”
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