‘Surviving R. Kelly’: Powerful Docuseries Is a Reckoning for the Singer — And Us

Monsters can be catchy. sure, we know they ’ re chilling and barbarous and that we should avoid them at all costs. But what do we do when the most terrify ones are wearing masks ? What about the connivers who drip with charm, are crafty with their words and know precisely how to make us confuse their pain with love ? And what if, God prevent, the giant good happens to be rich and brawny ?
many of the women featured in Surviving R. Kelly — Lifetime ’ s gut-wrenching, six-part documentary series, premiering tonight, that explores the intimate abuse allegations piling up around the dishonor R & B singer — are grappling with those very questions. Their giant is Robert Kelly, the singer-songwriter who rose to superstardom in 1993 with the free of his alone debut, 12 Play. Smash songs like “ Bump n ’ Grind, ” “ Your Body ’ s Calling ” and “ Sex Me ” merged rap ’ south wear ’ t-give-a-fuck attitude with seductive R & B, while feel-good office ballads like “ I Believe I Can Fly ” tapped earnest gospel sensibilities .

As his fame condition ballooned and legends like Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston and Jay-Z embraced him, there was besides a darkness brewing behind the scenes : Kelly ’ second secret, as explained in Surviving R. Kelly, is his preference for intimate relationships with young girls, and his addiction to filming his abhorrent encounters with them is what ultimately brought his nausea to the unaccented. But hanker before the 2002 publish of the ill-famed “ peeing tape ” — in which he allegedly urinates on a daughter believed to be 14 years previous — Kelly began honing the behaviors that became always more sinister and antic, the documentary posits. More than a year in the make and featuring more than 50 interviews, Surviving R. Kelly unearths the make of a monster .
While Kelly and his representatives declined to cooperate with the producers of the series ( and he continues to deny all allegations against him ), no deficit of people from the ranks of his inmost circle appear onscreen, from his brothers to a longtime personal assistant, a erstwhile forefront of security, his accompaniment singers, his ex-wife and numerous ex-girlfriends who count themselves among the survivors of his abuse. Producers besides consulted psychologists, law enforcement officials, the journalists who ’ ve reported on him and music industry professionals ( including luminaries such as John Legend ) who either came up with Kelly or were inspired by his art. The summarize total of their testimony is a deeply contextualized bill of his demeanor equally well as a startle movie of how predators are shaped, how they operate and how they are enabled — particularly when they ’ re celebrated .
early on, the department of commerce revisits Kelly ’ s childhood in the projects of Chicago ’ s South Side, where he was a shy child who had perturb learn but showed a endowment for singing and songwriting that his family and schoolteachers encouraged. Life at home, however, was troubled. In his autobiography, deoxyadenosine monophosphate well as a 2012 interview Kelly gave to Tavis Smiley excerpted in the documentary, Kelly says a female family penis molested him from old age seven to around historic period 13. Kelly ’ second brother, Carey Kelly, says he believes his celebrated sibling, because he claims he was besides molested as a child .
When Kelly buried the pain, it seems, it metastasized. As his career took off in his twenties, Kelly hush hung round local high schools in Chicago, scoping out and chatting up girls when classes ended. Members of his cortege talk of recruiting teenagers — often aspiring singers themselves — to come to Kelly ’ mho studio apartment, which finally became a den of depravity. Jovante Cunningham, Kelly ’ s longtime backup singer, started her career when she was just a adolescent herself. She recalls the first time she witnessed Kelly sexually violating one of her young friends in the studio apartment : “ [ It ] was during the read of ‘ Slow Dance ’ the remix. He had one of my adolescent friends in the booth with him, bent over. And we were all correct there … none of us were of old age. ”

late, she sobs as she recalls her close friendship with Aaliyah, the bud R & B ace who died in a plane crash in 2001 at the age of 22 — and who married a 27-year-old Kelly when she was 15 years erstwhile. One even on the tour busbar, Cunningham says she remembers seeing Aaliyah and Kelly, who had denied publicly and privately that he was anything but a mentor to the unseasoned singer, having sexual activity. Through tears, she says, “ I feel protective of Aaliyah even right now … [ Robert ] destroyed a lot of people. People are still suffering behind things that went on 20 years ago. ”

The harrowing accounts of allege victims in Surviving R. Kelly establish patterns in his conduct. What emerges is a casebook picture of an abuser. According to these women, the singer — whose dub, “ The Pied Piper of R & B, ” takes on sickening relevance in lightly of their testimony — became ace at systemically identifying vulnerable targets and gradually breaking them down through controlling behavior. Lizzette Martinez says she lost her virginity to Kelly at old age 17 after he got her intoxicated for the first time. It wasn ’ t retentive before the dressing and bullying began. “ I have my boys following you and know everything you ’ ra doing, ” she says kelly warned her. He gave her rules to follow, echoed by other women in the objective : They had to call him “ daddy. ” They had to ask permission to use the public toilet. If they were athirst, they had to ask if they could eat. “ It was like he owned me, ” Martinez says. Martinez ’ s accusations mirror what Kelly ’ s ex-girlfriend Kitti Jones ( who besides appears in the serial ) told Rolling Stone in a 2017 feature.

His wife of closely 10 years, Drea Kelly, was no exception. She met the singer when she was 19 and auditioned to be one of his accompaniment dancers. soon, she says, he instructed her not to talk to anyone else on his tour. They wed in a surprise ceremony arranged entirely by him, and within a few years, witnesses say, he was keeping her locked up in their home. As she details years of torture at the hands of her ex-husband, and explains how she dramatically escaped his grip with nothing but the three children they partake, Drea ponders how things could have gotten so bad. And then, she says, it hit her : “ Because he has people helping him. ”
here, arguably, is the most profound revelation of Surviving R. Kelly. Kelly has allegedly been able to perpetrate sex crimes against minors for decades because the people around him — some of whom are interviewed in this objective so far still don ’ triiodothyronine seem to amply grasp their blameworthiness — allowed it to happen. They were there. They saw the minor girls and the beds he placed in every room of his studio. They booked hotel rooms for trysts and looked the other direction. They helped pay off families. They made certain he didn ’ deoxythymidine monophosphate get caught. Kelly ’ s former tour coach and personal adjunct Demetrius Smith ( who admits to forging documents alleging that Aaliyah was 18 when she wed Kelly ) says, “ That ’ s the way it was. We worked for him. This is what he wanted and then this is what we were supposed to give him. ” As Cunningham puts it, “ If you ’ re an pornographic who is around him and you ’ re not saying anything, you ’ re good angstrom ill as he is. ”

The lingering interview Surviving R. Kelly leaves is : How guilty are the rest of us ? What about the fans who heard the stories, possibly watched the record and still kept rocking with Kelly ? Part of the cause he has been able to continue his predatory behavior is because his fans have allowed him to keep making money. And american samoa long as he ’ second bringing in cash, record executives and radio stations are happy to keep him in play .

I was the music editor at Vibe magazine when the R. Kelly cover floor titled “ Sex, Lies and Videotapes, ” which appears in the documentary on respective occasions, was published in May 2002. Back then, we were shocked by the ill-famed video. But we besides had a lot of questions. There were thus many rumors and uncertainties. Was the female child in the tape in truth 14, or was she actually 18 ? Was she forced to participate or was she uncoerced ? then there ’ s the fact that she refused to testify against kelly when he was tried on 21 counts of child pornography offenses in 2008. In review, it ’ randomness net we were making excuses, but at that point, we decided as music journalists to focus on the music and to let crime reporters and police officers handle the rest. It was a chilling, confusing fourth dimension, but Kelly ’ s not-guilty verdict seemed to give us permission to forget the nefariousness and get back on the dance floor .
But those days are over. comprehensive examination and unblinking, Surviving R. Kelly forces us to finally hold Kelly — and ourselves — accountable once and for all. It would be nobelium humble feat of filmmaking from any mercantile establishment, but from Lifetime in particular — a network that for decades served up lewd melodramas such as Mother, May I Sleep With Danger ?, conceived as guilty pleasures for its predominantly female audience — it feels specially celebrated. here is a long-overdue attempt to pull these survivors out of the shadows, to give women of color a platform where their stories can be heard and treated with the graveness they so sorely deserve .
In fact, the biggest tragedy on display throughout the series is our culture ’ second blatant disregard for black girls, their guard and their lives. One can ’ deoxythymidine monophosphate assistant but wonder if Kelly would be in jail now if his alleged victims had been white and therefore viewed as valuable. Juror John Petrean doesn ’ thymine mince words in the documentary when asked why he voted in Kelly ’ s favor at the singer ’ s child pornography test years ago. “ I just didn ’ metric ton believe the women, ” he explains. “ The way they dressed, the way they acted ; I didn ’ metric ton like them. I voted against them. ”

Surviving R. Kelly airs on Lifetime Thursday, January 3 at 9 post meridiem ET/PT ; Friday, January 4, at 9 post meridiem ET/PT ; and Saturday, January 5, at 9 post meridiem ET/PT .

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