Russell Simmons is making an about-face

“This is a time of great transition.”
“This is a time of great transition.”
Image: Reuters/Andrew Kelly
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Russell Simmons has resigned from his entertainment empire following allegations of sexual assault by writer Jenny Lumet.

Lumet accused the Def Jam co-founder of assaulting her in his New York apartment in 1991 after she accepted a ride from him, and he refused to let his driver drop her at home. In an article for the Hollywood Reporter—written as an open letter to Simmons—Lumet said he used his size to force her into the elevator of his apartment building. She said he assaulted her in his bedroom, where she feared he would use violence against her if she didn’t “stay as contained as [she] could.”

“There is so much guilt, and so much shame,” Lumet wrote. “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.”

Lumet—daughter of director Sidney Lumet and journalist Gail Lumet Buckley, and granddaughter of the singer and actress Lena Horne—started her career as an actress and then became a screenwriter, best known for her script for the Jonathan Demme-directed Rachel Getting Married.

Full statement from Russell Simmons

In response, Simmons released a statement saying Lumet’s memory of the night was “very different than mine,” though her “feelings of fear and intimidation are real”:

I have been informed with great anguish of Jenny Lumet’s recollection about our night together in 1991. I know Jenny and her family and have seen her several times over the years since the evening she described. While her memory of that evening is very different from mine, it is now clear to me that her feelings of fear and intimidation are real. 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.

This is a time of great transition. The voices of the voiceless, those who have been hurt or shamed, deserve and need to be heard. As the corridors of power inevitably make way for a new generation, I don’t want to be a distraction so I am removing myself from the businesses that I founded. The companies will now be run by a new and diverse generation of extraordinary executives who are moving the culture and consciousness forward. I will convert the studio for yogic science into a not-for-profit center of learning and healing. As for me, I will step aside and commit myself to continuing my personal growth, spiritual learning and above all to listening.

His influence goes beyond music

This is not the first time that Simmons—whose work in music, film, and fashion has been a major influence in the hip-hop world for more than three decades—has been accused of sexual assault. Earlier this month, model Keri Claussen alleged Simmons assaulted her in his apartment in 1991 and forced her to have oral sex. She said Brett Ratner (the Rush Hour and X-Men director who has separately been accused of sexual assault) helped Simmons lure her to the apartment and watched as the incident happened.

Actress Tanya Reid made a similar allegation against Simmons and Ratner, saying she was assaulted by Ratner and pressured by Simmons while working in a hotel in 1994. Both Simmons and Ratner have denied Claussen and Reid’s accounts.

Actor Terry Crews recently called out Simmons on Twitter for privately saying the agent Crews says  groped him at an industry party should “get a pass.”

Simmons’s stepping down is the latest in a string of high-profile resignations and dismissals in the entertainment and media world after accusations of sexual misconduct. Matt Lauer of NBC News, Charlie Rose of CBS News, movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, comedian Louis C.K., Disney executive John Lasseter, and actor Kevin Spacey have all been removed from major positions and projects.