Jenny Lumet pens letter alleging sexual abuse by Russell Simmons, struggles with being a WOC victimized by a man of color
People out to avoid the merits of certain claims often state some version of “only God can judge me.” The statement is expected to pause the progression of criticism and, with hope, allow certain allegations to fade.
In the world of entertainment mogul and entrepreneur Russell Simmons, an analogous response about his generalized goodness was expected to dispose of sexual assault and harassment allegations. “I have never committed any acts of aggression or violence in my life,” he said. “I would never knowingly cause fear of harm to anyone.”
Sesali Brown addressed Simmons’ possibly contrived portrayal as a plant-loving, harmless yogi. In an article for Refinery29 Brown wrote, “Simmons is known for morphing, once again, into a clean-eating vegan committed to spiritual enlightenment and holistic living — exactly what you would expect from someone who, as of 2011, had amassed a fortune of $350 million. And it is this version of Simmons that seems most at odds with the two sexual assault allegations levied against him.”
Simmons asserted that he never acted aggressively or violently in his life, after model Keri Claussen Khalighi shared her alleged experience as Simmons’ sexual assault victim in the Los Angeles Times. Khalighi described a sordid Simmons-Brett Ratner tag-team, which unsettled Jenny Lumet. Lumet, an award-earning screenwriter of Rachel Getting Married and The Mummy, penned a sobering letter to Simmons for the Hollywood Reporter about surviving Simmons’ sexual abuse.
Lumet wrote of Simmons’ unreciprocated pursuit of her, social pressures, disparate bargaining power between them, and being locked in a car with Simmons, Simmons’ driver and shuttled to Simmons’ home, against her audible wishes, for sexual intercourse predicated on silence and fear instead of unambiguous consent. She wrote of discomfort with being a woman of color whose experience could negatively affect a man of color. She wrote of thinking about how her story would affect Simmons’ daughters.
“I don’t recall ever meeting any of the women who have spoken out against you, Russell,” Lumet wrote. “But I can’t leave those women twisting in the wind.” After the letter’s publication, Simmons announced that he would step down from his various businesses and commit to “personal growth, spiritual learning and above all to listening.”
Maybe Simmons had a mid-life epiphany about power, various vulnerabilities (remember when people in economically perilous positions were locked out of their Rush cards?) and sexual exploitation—25 years after the alleged incident. Or maybe, Lumet’s pedigree made her different in his mind and in the minds of Team Russell. As the granddaughter of activist and actress Lena Horne and the daughter of filmmaker Sidney Lumet, maybe Lumet would not just go away in the industry and in the collective consciousness. Maybe doing nothing, this time, in response to this victim, was a risk no longer worth taking.