Entertainment » Television

Surviving R. Kelly

by Louise Adams
Wednesday Jan 16, 2019
'Surviving R. Kelly'
'Surviving R. Kelly'  (Source:Lifetime)

Lifetime's 6-part Surviving R. Kelly series arrived in early January, the largest premiere in network history, to ask why the R&B singer isn't in prison. In this #TimesUp #MeToo moment that's toppling so many entertainment giants, why is the accused pedophile still able to maintain a "sex slave cult" from Chicago to Atlanta to LA? Why is this story not getting more traction in mainstream white media?

Because it involves Black girls, is the sobering conclusion. Activists are currently promoting the #MuteRKelly hashtag and movement, asking radio and streaming services to remove his music and impact Kelly's ability to fund his predatory lifestyle. And why has it been so difficult to get folks to abandon this man?

Because they love his music, the soundtrack of milestones in their lives, like singing "I Believe I Can Fly" at high school graduations or weddings. Fans compartmentalize Kelly's behavior, some argue. Yet, as the sensationalist but moving documentary depicts, perhaps R. (Robert/Rob) Kelly added those types of gospel-inspired songs to his catalog to obfuscate his predilection for young girls and the raunchier tunes that tell of his sexual depravity in plain sight.

The series documents many survivors of Kelly's brutal system of control — starvation, beatings, signing NDAs and self-incriminating documents, having to ask permission to use the bathroom, not being allowed to speak to anyone else, being required to call him "Daddy" — and includes women who were initially super fans, disbelieving reports of brainwashing only to later succumb to him themselves.

The #MuteRKelly movement and these TV programs appear to be cracking the decades-long system of enabling and silence surrounding the singer. Illinois State's Attorney Kim Foxx is urging anyone with allegations of sexual assault and domestic violence to call 773-674-6492. Kelly is facing eviction from his Chicago recording studio for not paying rent (he also maintains another residence at Trump Tower). Illinois just refused Kelly a permit to perform a Spring Break concert in April after this blowback.

Which is a prudent decision. The series recounts how Kelly likes to hang around young students to hunt for new conquests, starting at his Windy City alma mater, Kenwood Academy, where he would return for years and years to pick up new girls. He married up-and-coming singer Aaliyah when she was 15 and he was 27, and produced her song "Age Ain't Nothing But a Number."

He was charged with 21 counts of child pornography (easier to prove than child rape), but was cleared after an unusually long waiting period of six years (the film posits that the delay was generated so that the underage victims would be testifying as older, less convincing, women). The charges were dropped as he was dropping new music, the "Chocolate Factory" album.

Each of the half-dozen episodes reveals more and more horrific stories of abuse, violence and a slave-like system. The premiere installment, "The Pied Piper of R&B," explores how Kelly chose that moniker to flaunt the fact that he, like his namesake, literally steals children away from their families by luring them with music (and wealth and fame).

His former wife Andrea talks of "falling in love with his brokenness," having three children with him (despite his steady stream of teenaged girlfriends), then finally taking a domestic violence quiz that woke her up to the fact that she was indeed being abused (https://psychcentral.com/quizzes/domestic-violence-quiz/). Many survivors interviewed share strikingly similar seduction and enslavement stories. Journalists like Touré and media personalities like Wendy Williams ponder why Kelly has escaped the fate of Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein. Fellow Chicagoan Chance the Rapper regrets recording a single with Kelly and not believing the women. John Legend says that, indeed, time is up for R. Kelly.

And yet several women remain with Kelly. In interviews in studio and on the road, their families plead that he release the young daughters they haven't seen in years. #MeToo founder Tarana Burke talks throughout about the star system that enables and perpetuates this type of abuse, "using power and wealth to degrade Black girls."

Those that like his music need to make a distinction between the art and the artist (Kelly recently came out with a song called "I Admit"). White media needs to pay attention to this story to illuminate how Black girls and women matter. The cycle of abuse needs to be broken, and Kelly should not only be muted, but prosecuted and prevented from continuing his reign of terror.

The Surviving R. Kelly series originally aired on Lifetime January 3-5, 2019, and is now available online: https://www.mylifetime.com/shows/surviving-r-kelly
#SurvivingRKelly #MuteRKelly

Louise Adams is a Chicago freelance writer at www.treefalls.com (and a nom de guerre).


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