‘Surviving R. Kelly’ Documentary on Lifetime Details Sex Abuse Accusations

R. Kelly has consistently denied allegations of sexual misconduct with women and young teenagers, even as he has settled lawsuits.CreditCreditScott Legato/Getty Imagesption
5 minute read. 

For more than two decades, the R&B singer Robert Kelly, who performs as R. Kelly, has faced accusations of sexual misconduct and abuse.

This week, a six-part documentary on Lifetime is taking an expansive look at the allegations against Mr. Kelly, a chart-topping artist whose history has invited extra scrutiny in recent years.

The series, “Surviving R. Kelly,” includes testimony from several women who accuse the singer of abuse, as well as commentary from Mr. Kelly’s critics, including the founder of the #MeToo movement, Tarana Burke, and the singer John Legend.

The six episodes, each an hour long, cover the long history of allegations against Mr. Kelly. They feature women who described being controlled or abused by him, often when they were teenagers, as well as associates and relatives of the singer.

Mr. Kelly has continuously denied the allegations against him.

The documentary has become the subject of widespread attention and fierce debate on social media, with many expressing gratitude to the women who continue to tell their stories.

“I wish that he would experience a kind of social death, and that people who still vociferously declare him innocent — or their favorite artist, or worthy of having his work separated from who he is — that they are denied that,” said dream hampton, an executive producer of the documentary.

The six parts of the series were scheduled over three days of broadcast, from Thursday through Saturday. The third and fourth episodes focused on Mr. Kelly’s 2008 child pornography trial and the sex tape at its center. The fifth and sixth episodes examine more recent allegations and follow parents who were trying to free their daughters from Mr. Kelly’s influence, Ms. hampton said.

While some fans of Mr. Kelly still defend him, many critics say that he has escaped the consequences of his actions for far too long.

“No one cared because we were black girls,” the writer Mikki Kendall said in the documentary.

[Here is a timeline of the accusations against Mr. Kelly.]

Ms. hampton agreed that race was an integral part of this story. She added that black boys and girls in the United States are often perceived as older than they are, and referenced Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy who was shot and killed by a police officer in Cleveland in 2014.

“We know black boys are perceived to be older than they are by police, and we absolutely do an equivalent thing to black girls,” Ms. hampton said in an interview Friday. “We perceive them to be more sexual at an early age. We perceive them to be older. And that is rooted — there is no other way to say it, and it’s not hyperbole to say — it’s absolutely rooted in this country’s history of slavery, which has gone on longer than it hasn’t.”

Mr. Kelly was still featured as an artist on the RCA website on Saturday. The label did not immediately respond to a request for comment, and a representative for Sony Music, which oversees RCA Records, declined to comment. Mr. Kelly’s management also declined to comment.

His team has previously said it would “vigorously resist this attempted public lynching of a black man who has made extraordinary contributions to our culture.” Mr. Kelly is not currently facing criminal charges.

In 1994, when Mr. Kelly was 27, he married Aaliyah Haughton, who was 15 but was listed as 18 on a wedding certificate, according to Vibe Magazine. The marriage was annulled in 1995. Ms. Haughton, who was a popular singer in her own right, died in a plane crash in 2001.

Mr. Kelly was accused of having sex with a teenager in a lawsuit in 1996, and again in 2001. Both lawsuits were settled, but the music critic Jim DeRogatis, who reported on them, continued to investigate the accusations against Mr. Kelly.

The singer Aaliyah, seen here in 2000, was reportedly married to Mr. Kelly in 1994, when he was 27 and she was 15.CreditGeorge De Sota/Liaison, via Hulton Archive

[Here is a New York Times Popcast interview with Mr. DeRogatis.]

In the documentary, people who knew R. Kelly claim that during the 1990s and 2000s, associates of the famous singer knew that he liked to prey on underage girls.

In 2002, a video that appeared to show Mr. Kelly having sex with a teenage girl and urinating in her mouth was sent to Mr. DeRogatis at The Chicago Sun-Times, which reported that the footage was being investigated by the Chicago police.

Later that year, Mr. Kelly was indicted by a grand jury in Chicago for child pornography. He pleaded not guilty, and for more than five years his case did not make it to trial. During that time he released albums including “Chocolate Factory,” which contained the chart-topping song “Ignition (Remix).”

Arguments in the 2008 trial centered on whether the man shown in the video was indeed Mr. Kelly, and whether the girl’s identity or her age could be verified. The jury decided that the girl, who did not testify, could not be identified, and Mr. Kelly was found not guilty.

In the documentary, one juror was asked about the women who had said, during the trial, that they also were victimized by Mr. Kelly when they were young. “I just didn’t believe them, the women,” the juror answered. “I know it sounds ridiculous. The way they dress, the way they act — I didn’t like them.”

R. Kelly waved to fans while being escorted from Cook County Court in Chicago in 2002.Credit – Charles Bennett/Associated Press

For years after the trial, Mr. Kelly continued to perform. In 2017, an article by Mr. DeRogatis in BuzzFeed News reported on allegations that the singer was controlling several young women by taking away their phones and limiting contact with their families. That same year, a campaign of protests, in person and on social media under the hashtag #MuteRKelly, began to pick up steam. In 2018, Spotify announced that it would remove Mr. Kelly from its official playlists, though his music would remain on the streaming platform.

A screening of the Lifetime documentary in Manhattan last month was called off after anonymous threats were called in to the venue, CNN reported.

The documentary’s producers include Ms. hampton, Tamra Simmons, Brie Miranda Bryant, Joel Karsberg and Jesse Daniels, according to Lifetime.

Some of the people featured in the documentary, including Mr. Legendand the columnist Jamilah Lemieux, have pointed people to organizations like A Long Walk Home, a Chicago-based nonprofit working to end violence against girls and women; and Girls for Gender Equity, a nonprofit that has created a guide for viewers of the documentary, including those who are survivors of sexual assault.

Joe Coscarelli contributed reporting.

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