Lifetime debuts the bombshell documentary series, “Surviving R. Kelly,” in a special three-night-event, beginning Thursday, January 3 at 9pm ET/PT. Two additional hours will premiere on Friday, January 4, at 9pm ET/PT and the final installment of the six-part documentary series will debut on Saturday, January 5, at 9pm ET/PT.
In the ground-breaking documentary series “Surviving R. Kelly,” women are emerging from the shadows and uniting their voices to share their stories. Celebrated as one of the greatest R&B singers of all time, R. Kelly’s genre defining career and playboy lifestyle has been riddled with rumors of abuse, predatory behavior, and pedophilia. Despite damning evidence and multiple witnesses, to date, none of these accusations have seemingly affected him. For the first time ever, survivors and people from R. Kelly’s inner circle, are coming forward with new allegations about his sexual, mental, and physical abuse. They are now finally ready to share their full story and shed light on the secret life the public has never seen.
With over 50 interviews including civil rights activist Tarana Burke, musicians John Legend and Sparkle, talk-show host and former DJ Wendy Williams, ex-wife Andrea Kelly, ex-girlfriend Kitti Jones, brothers Carey and Bruce Kelly, and many others, the true story of R. Kelly’s controversial past will be revealed beginning in 1970 through present day, shedding light on the R&B star whose history of alleged abuse of underage African American girls has, until recently, been largely ignored by mainstream media.
“Surviving R. Kelly” is executive produced by cultural critic, filmmaker and passionate activist dream hampton, Tamara Simmons, Joel Karlsberg and Jesse Daniels for Kreativ Inc. which has a production deal with Bunim/Murray Productions (BMP), and Brie Miranda Bryant from Lifetime. This program falls under Lifetime’s commitment to provide a platform to give women a voice where they have previously been unheard to bring awareness to the abuses and harassment of women.
I feel like any review will fail to give the reader a sense of how jarring, demoralizing, angering and heartbreaking Surviving R. Kelly is. This review is solely about the first two hours, which aired on Lifetime Thursday, but I’m quite sure that the rest of the documentary, which will air Friday and Saturday, will be just as devastating, if not more so.
The first two hours of Surviving R. Kelly set up how the seeds were planted for Robert Kelly to become the monster that he is today. We learn how his own childhood was impacted by sexual abuse, and how that abuse (plus the continued protection given to the family member who perpetuated the abuse) set the stage for Kelly become a master maniuplator and sexual and physical abuser himself. But any sympathy we might have for Kelly is severely muted when we learn more and more about his pattern of going after underage girls, including the late singer Aaliyah, whom he had sex with underage and married at 15. (The marriage was quickly annulled.)
Kelly’s actions are horrible, from scoping outside malls and high schools, to luring girls with his music and celebrity status. These aren’t even the worst of what he’s done in his career, which includes physically and mentally abusing his victims, many of which are still in their teens. But what’s just as bad is the sheer amount of people who have allowed Kelly to continue this behavior. From security to music producers even down to some of the victims’ parents, there were way too many people who helped (actively or inadvertently) Kelly abuse for so many years.
As someone said in the documentary, one of the only reasons this breakdown in responsibility must have happened is because society doesn’t care about black girls’ welfare. Just think–if R. Kelly had done crimes against tons of white girls, he would have been in jail years ago. But it’s because he targeted black and brown girls that R. Kelly has been able to roam freely. Not only is it society’s fault; it’s also the black community itself that has a hand in culpability.
There’s a lot to get into that would be best served for a longer essay, but too often, we as a community shield black men (and women) from the punishment they deserve because of a variety of reasons, but more often than not, that reason boils down to giving “grace” to family members. Instead of putting a foot down and stopping bad behavior in its tracks, the “creepy uncle” or “creepy aunt” becomes an open secret. We tolerate things just because someone happens to be family, and we’re taught not to turn our backs on family.
But if I’m speaking in a broader societal sense without race, we as a society often tolerate the bad behavior of celebrities just because they’re celebrities. Just think of all the folks who have gone down the path of no return in 2018. From Kevin Spacey to Harvey Weinstein to Bill Cosby, there have been tons of men who have been called out and punished. But these same people were able to commit their crimes out in the open because we as a society were too blinded by their celebrity to believe they would be terrible people. We were surprised and shocked, but should we have? No one in Hollywood was surprised, and celebrities like Courtney Love even said on tape how much of a monster Weinstein is. Apparently Hollywood wasn’t that surprised by Cosby either, since Hannibal Burress made a joke skewering Cosby, starting the avalanche of Cosby’s demise in the public eye. But while there were people who did speak out, there were still so many more who didn’t, solely because of the supposed power these men wielded. Because of false idols like money, fame and power, people looked the other way.
The same goes for the people who surrounded Kelly. Because they were riding his coattails to the top, they chose to look the other way and even worse, gave in to his whims. He had runners who would actively look for girls to bring to Kelly. He had people who would follow the girls so he could know their whereabouts. So many people in the documentary mention not feeling right about what Kelly was doing or what they would see, but if there was so much concern, how come no one did anything? How come no one stepped up to the plate, acted like an adult, and saved these girls from ruin? Kelly needs to be held accountable, full stop. Not next week or next month, but NOW. But along with that, in the realm of spiritual court, the people who enabled Kelly also need to atone for their sins. Maybe this documentary is the enablers’ first step toward that.
There are so many heartbreaking stories in this documentary and so many insider secrets that will make you look at the industry–and tons of your favorite music, including Kelly’s discography as well as Aaliyah’s “Age Ain’t Nothin’ But A Number” and Michael Jackson’s “You Are Not Alone,” both of which are written by Kelly–in a completely different way. It’ll also make you witness black and brown pain as you never have before. These women have been silenced for so long due to systemic racism and societal neglect, and it’s past time for us to hear and acknowledge their stories. They need our full-hearted embrace in this moment.
If you’re still someone who’s on the fence about Kelly, watch this documentary. After which, you won’t want to do anything other than #MuteRKelly.