Last week, Sony Music parted ways from singer R Kelley after the outrage of the Lifetime six-part documentaries series titled “Surviving R.Kelly”. The series covers the musician’s long-running history of sexual assault and domestic violence accusations from multiple women, and it tells those stories through over 50 interviews with his accuser’s witnesses and people who were close with him. Allegations that R. Kelly serially preyed on young women were first reported in 1997. There are even rumors of Kelly’s abuse that stemmed back from 1994 when the then 27-year-old Kelly married then 15-year-old singer Aaliyah, and since then there have been dozens of allegations of physical, sexual, and mental abuse against Kelly; many of which came from women who said they were underage when they became involved with him.
As he had done before Kelly denied those accusations stating that the subjects interviewed made false allegations in order to gain fame, and in fact ahead of the show’s release on Thursday, TMZ reported that Kelly’s lawyers sent Lifetime a letter warning that Kelly’s camp would sue if the network aired the series, but in a statement released later that day Lifetime responded by saying quote, Lifetime has always been a brand that champion’s women’s stories. The documentary will air as scheduled” and it did. That first night’s install and covered Kelly’s experience of sexual abuse as a child as well as his relationship with Aaliyah.
The second night’s episode detailed Kelly’s child pornography case and sex tapes scandal. As some might remember, back in 2002 Kelly was charged with 21 counts of child pornography related to a sex tape with an underage girl where he’s seen urinating in her mouth. He was later acquitted in 2008 after a jury decided they could not be sure of the identity of the girl on the tape who did not testify. The final night’s episode covered the more recent allegations that Kelly had been holding young women captive in his Atlanta and Chicago homes, and those being the sex cult accusations that were covered by the media back in 2017.
R. Kelly has consistently denied the many accusations against him over the years and has continued to gain success and critical acclaim despite that. Overall the series showed that Kelly’s behavior was enabled by his fame and the people surrounding him, but something really interesting about this series was the interviews, and more importantly, the people being interviewed. They interviewed his own brothers, fellow artists, producers, assistants, and other business associates. People who in different ways and for different reasons allowed this alleged behavior to continue. That’s something that a lot of people on social media are really focused on right now, asking the questions why did you know and stand by, you allowed this to happen, but also why weren’t these women believed for so long?
This conversation was also fueled by a partial statement Chance the Rapper made in an interview back in May that was used in a documentary. A Rolling Stones article quoted Chance in the interview saying, “I didn’t value the accuser’s stories because they were black women.” But it’s important to note that he later then took to Twitter to explain this quote was taken out of context writing, “The quote was taken out of context, but the truth is any of us who ever ignored R Kelly stories, or ever believed he was being setup/attacked by the system (as black men often are) we’re doing so at the detriment of black women and girls. I apologize to all of his survivors for working with him and for taking this long to speak out.”
His argument that the Rolling Stone article misinterpreted his point, that he was taken out of context, was actually backed up by the journalist who conducted the interview. The journalist Jamilah Lemieux wrote on Twitter, “FYI, I conducted the interview with Chance in May. He spoke clearly and unequivocally in support of BW and the victims.” Also adding that this apology from Chance the Rapper is not something that came out after the documentary. This is something he said before, which Jamilah wrote, “In May, he apologized in an interview that didn’t run due to my exit from the publication I was working for at the time. Part of those remarks appear in tonight’s episode.” And it ended up getting to a point where Chance just tweeted out a longer clip so people could see for themselves.
Following all of this Rolling Stone Magazine updated and edited their article.
As far as the documentary series is concerned as a whole, for the most part the series was met with support especially from the victims. The show title was trending heavily over the weekend, it broke a network record. Reportedly Thursday’s air drew in 1.9 million total viewers making it Lifetime’s best performance in more than two years in all key demos. It also seems to have had a ripple effect with the rape abuse and incest national network saying calls to its national hotline increased 27% since the show aired. Additionally, a lot people have been giving praise to John Legend for being one of the musicians to speak out against Kelly in an interview for the documentary. On Thursday night John Legend tweeted, “To everyone telling me how courageous I am for appearing in the doc, it didn’t feel risky at all. I believe these women and don’t give a fuck about protecting a serial child rapist. Easy decision.”
While it may have been easy for John Legend an important thing to note is it clearly wasn’t for others. Dream Hampton who’s one of the executive producers of Surviving R. Kelly said that it was difficult to get people who collaborated with him artistically to come forward. Saying, “We asked Lady Gaga, we asked Erykah Badu, we asked Celine Dion, we asked Jay-Z, we asked Dave Chappelle.” Furthering adding, “They’re people who have been critical of him. That makes John Legend even more of a hero for me.” But also in the days since the documentary aired John Legend has also been forced to comment on an old photo of him with Harvey Weinstein that has resurfaced. One social media user (@DesAnika123) tweeted, “@johnlegend please explain?? I don’t remember you publicly denouncing this man!!! @cthagod”
To which John responded with, “I took a photo with and worked with Harvey on several occasions before his abuse was known to me and the rest of the world. Since his being exposed, his company and career have rightfully been destroyed and he’s been indicted. Sounds like something that should happen to R Kelly.” Continuing, “If y’all wanna cape for R and discount all these women’s stories, just say it. Don’t bring up some old pics of me and somebody else.”
On the opposite end after the series finale, TMZ reported that Kelly was disgusted by the Lifetime show. According to their sources, Kelly views the series as a vendetta against him by the producers and others who have hated him throughout his professional career. He also went on to say that his team claims that he, Kelly, doesn’t know half the people who appeared on the show. Allegedly there were also various people who wanted to go on camera and defend him, but were shut out by producers.
Another TMZ report on Jan 7 stated that R.Kelly has vowed to expose his accusers for their blatant lies, also adding that his camp was in the middle of launching a website called “Surviving Lies.com” that was reportedly meant to expose all of his accusers and reveal their motivations behind their allegations, but one thing to note is there was already a Facebook page by the same name that was already public with posts that discredited his victims. They included things like photos of alleged text messages between the victims and Kelly, their criminal records, videos from people in their lives who have tried to discredit them, but regarding that page Facebook ended up taking it down on January 7th for violating their community standards against bullying and sharing private contact information.
As far as other big reactions from the entertainment industry there were people such as Dayton’s John who put out a tweet that he later paraphrased to TMZ live, “Watching #SurvivingRKelley. I am so sick to my damn stomach! Hey @rkelly, please don’t take your own life now that we all know how fucking disgusting you are. Thats way too easy! Make amends with the victims and the families, serve your time and then kill yourself while in jail.” Those comments were eventually met with backlash to which to Daymond John then went on to kind of apologize. He later tweeted, “1-2: You all know I keep it positive but since my tweet about R. Kelly, some have been taken back by my comments knowing my concerns around mental health. Suicide is a serious issue that commands respect and I apologize for being insensitive to those who have been
2-2 affected by suicide and struggle with mental health. This is an emotional issue for me. I’m a son, husband and a father to 3 amazing daughters and Im sickened by R. Kelly, who is an alleged serial child predator who has no place in society. Now back to my good energy tweets.”
Other celebrities such as Jada Pinkett Smith spoke out, specifically pointing out that this had been beneficial for R. Kelly, because according to reports by XXL, sales and streams of R. Kelly’s music have actually gone up since the first episode.
That is where we are now with the current situation and it will be very interesting to see what happens from here while the conversation surrounding this controversy develops.
Story: Martin Reynolds