WARNING: This post includes spoilers from “Surviving R. Kelly”
This Thursday marked the debut of the explosive Lifetime series “Surviving R. Kelly” and as someone who watched all six episodes, I can say with absolute confidence that this eye-opening and disturbing documentary will force you to sit up and pay attention.
“Surviving R. Kelly,” whose executive producer is hip-hop expert and activist dream hampton, provides an in-depth look at the 25 years of sexual misconduct accusations against the “Pied Piper.” It includes the voices of his real-life alleged victims, parents of those who claim the singer has “kidnapped” and “brainwashed” their daughters and commentary from talking heads and experts such as #MeToo Movement creator Tarana Burke, #MuteKelly co-creator Oronike Odeleye and singer John Legend.
It also includes input from those who were once closest to the 51-year-old including two of his brothers, former wife Andrea Kelly, protegé Sparkle and even his former choir teacher from Chicago’s own Kenwood High School.
Each of these individuals’ powerful testimony adds layer after layer to this complex and nuanced cautionary tale of how a monster was created, coddled, encouraged and allowed to spread havoc on a generation of Black women and girls. And he did this all, while continuing to climb the charts, thanks to the love, support and denial from the Black community.
At times, “Surviving R. Kelly” can make you want to turn off the TV because it’s triggering, especially for those who have a history of sexual abuse and domestic violence.
But if you stomach the content of this 6-hour series, let us prepare you: Here are a range of emotions we predict you will experience while watching it.
SHOCK: Listen. Unless you’ve been living in denial or under a rock since the early 90s, the sexual misconduct, pedophilia and rape accusations against R. Kelly shouldn’t be news to you. But regardless of what we thought we knew, “Surviving R. Kelly” definitely has a shock factor.
Perhaps it’s the visual aspect of the show, seeing all these people in his life come forward with their harrowing and disturbing stories. Or maybe it’s that prior to now, we’ve gotten a lot of this information in bits and pieces, spread out over decades and multiple publications. Now, for the first time, we’re seeing this horror story in one-sitting—and it’s incredibly overwhelming.
In addition, the shock comes from new information the show provides, including how a pregnancy scare prompted Aaliyah and R. Kelly to get married when she was only a teenager and how his own team played a role in procuring young girls for him.
DISGUST: As I watched the series, there was this constant pit in my stomach, because it was becoming more clear just how unhinged, calculated and perverted he had become over the years.
According to the documentary, not only did he have a lurid infatuation with taping himself having sex with underage girls, he also had a history of creating songs, some of his best hits, based on the inappropriate relationships he was having with minors. To think how much I loved “You Are Not Alone” and then to later discover that it was about a miscarriage that Lizzette Martinez, one of his teenage “girlfriends” had in the past.
You’ll probably also be revulsed when you watch his former personal assistant and manager Demetrius Smith admit to forging the singers’ marriage certificate to say Aaliyah was 18, instead of 15. Or the fact that despite Sparkle claiming she saw young girls hanging around in the studio and even witnessed his wife Andrea ask for permission to eat, she still introduced her 12-year-old niece to Kelly.
The same niece that ended up in the infamous “pee-pee” tape.
And we can’t forget how R. Kelly’s own brother said on camera that liking younger girls was just a preference, not the big deal we’re making it out to be.
RAGE: One of the biggest takeaways from this documentary is that in spite of all the evidence of sexual misconduct and the witnesses who corroborated those crimes, R. Kelly continues to get away with it. Why?
Simple: We don’t value the lives and bodies of Black women and girls.
As a community we would rather uphold the legacy of a singer and Black male success in white America than hold him accountable for the alleged crimes he committed against the most vulnerable of our community.
We really see this dynamic play out in the third episode, which mainly focuses on R. Kelly’s 2008 child pornography trial. A trial where he was acquitted even though there were was a videotape of him allegedly urinating into a young girl’s mouth and engaging in multiple sex acts with a minor.
I literally saw red when they revealed that the singer’s lawyer had the trial postponed for nearly 6 years because that meant the then 14-year-old girl would now be 20, making it harder for the jury to see her as a young victim.
That, and seeing all the Black women that showed up for the trial supporting him, claiming this was nothing but a witch hunt and a plot to bring “good Black man” down by “lying gold diggers.”
Not to mention, you will be taken a back at just how many men interviewed admitted that they “knew something was going on” or weren’t “comfortable” with what they saw, but not once did they ever speak up or call the police.
The silence when it comes to acts committed against Black women and girls is deafening.
HEARTBREAK: After the rage lessens a bit, you will begin to experience some serious heartbreak, especially in episodes 4, 5 and 6 that focus on his alleged sex cult. Here, you are introduced to even more women who go into explicit detail about the alleged abuse, control and even starvation they endured while under the singer’s thumb.
We also delve into the stories of the mothers and fathers who haven’t seen their daughters in years because R. Kelly allegedly refuses to let them have contact with them. To watch these parents in tears begging their little girls to come home, throwing rocks at windows to see if their child is being held captive is incredibly hard to watch.
These are the stories we forget or don’t think about when we’re bumpin’ and grindin’ to his songs.
A SENSE OF URGENCY: Ultimately, “Surviving R. Kelly,” is a sobering reminder of what happens when we turn our backs on women and girls. Hopefully, this documentary will usher in a huge sense of urgency that forces you to finally protect them and hold alleged predators like Kelly responsible.
That change can be better educating yourself about consent, victim-blaming and sexual assault. Or speaking up when you hear folks make disparaging comments about rape survivors or spread dangerous myths about assault in our community. Or it can translate into donating to organizations like A Long Walk Home, a Chicago-based national non-profit that uses art to educate, inspire, and mobilize young people to end violence against girls and women.
Most importantly, when you see inappropriate behavior around you, step in and step up.
Remember: This entire R. Kelly tragedy happened on our watch, so let’s work together to ensure that this never happens ever again.
Tune in to the rest of Lifetime’s three-night, six-part Surviving R. Kelly docuseries on Friday (January 4) and Saturday (January 5) at 9 p.m. EST.
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