'Surviving R. Kelly': Documenting Decades Of Abuse From The R&B Singer
Editor’s Note: This hour discusses sexual abuse and contains audio that some listeners may find disturbing or offensive.
With David Folkenflik
Allegations against R&B singer R. Kelly have been circulating for decades. Why did it take a TV documentary to get people to pay attention?
From The Reading List
BuzzFeed News: “ Opinion: How Did The Media Get The R. Kelly Story So Wrong? The New York Times Led The Way.” — “R. Kelly is back in the news thanks to Surviving R. Kelly, a powerful six-part documentary that became a social media sensation. If you didn’t know it before, it’s now clear: The Kelly tale is uniquely sordid. Most notoriously, he was put on trial in Chicago in 2008 after a tape surfaced that prosecutors said showed him having sex with, and urinating on, a 14-year-old girl. But it continues to this day, with new accusations made to police that he is keeping a number of women in his various homes cut off from family and friends.
“A parallel story unfolded in journalism over the last two decades. In this one, a reporter from Chicago breaks the Kelly child sex allegations and pursues them relentlessly — even as an influential critic, from his perch in the cultural section of the nation’s most powerful newspaper, in his own relentless fashion lauds Kelly over and over again as a pop genius, and downplays the reports coming out of Chicago.”
Vulture: “ 5 Takeaways From Surviving R. Kelly” — “Will 2019 be the year that R. Kelly is finally canceled? Despite comprehensive reporting on R. Kelly’s alleged sexual abuse and psychological manipulation of young women and underage girls, a trial for child pornography charges in 2008 (for which he was eventually acquitted, to the surprise of many who thought he was a condemned man), and a viral campaign in the past year or so to #MuteRKelly, he has yet to see legal or career repercussions related to the allegations. Surviving R. Kelly, Lifetime’s six-part docuseries isn’t billed as bulletproof evidence that will undoubtedly bring him to justice, but it is a significant (if flawed) effort to render fans and apologists ‘unable to loudly declare their defense of R. Kelly,’ after watching it, according to executive producer Dream Hampton. Below are five takeaways from Surviving R. Kelly that aren’t necessarily total revelations, but uniquely shaped our understanding of Robert Sylvester Kelly and the unimaginable trauma he has reportedly inflicted on black and brown women.”
Detroit Free Press: “ R. Kelly allegations addressed in Detroit writer’s Lifetime docu-series” — “Starting Thursday, the Lifetime network will devote six hours and three consecutive nights to ‘Surviving R. Kelly,’ a powerful, disturbing chronicle of the long-running allegations that the music superstar has sexually and physically abused women and young girls.
“Containing more than 50 interviews and covering a time span from 1970 to today, the cable-TV documentary is among the most comprehensive looks ever at the scandal surrounding the man once nicknamed the king of R & B.
“It’s a story that deserves a docu-series, according to Detroit author, activist and filmmaker Dream Hampton, executive producer of ‘Surviving R. Kelly.’
“‘I felt like it was time to deal with him, for lack of a better word,’ says Hampton.
“Viewers will learn more about everything from Kelly’s troubled childhood in Chicago to his early success to his secretive relationship with Aaliyah, the late singer-actress from Detroit who was 15 when she wed Kelly, then 27.”
BuzzFeed News: “ Parents Told Police Their Daughter Is Being Held Against Her Will In R. Kelly’s ‘Cult’” — “Backstage at the Fantasy Springs Resort Casino in Indio, California, on May 23, 2015, J. was thrilled that her 19-year-old daughter’s music career was going to make a major leap forward from recording demos and performing at talent shows to the chance of stardom — thanks to the help of an R&B superstar.
“‘When we got to go backstage with R. Kelly, we stayed there over two hours,’ said J. ‘One-on-one with just me and my daughter and him. We went back to talk about the music. He listened to her CD. He was going to help her with her CD, and I was really impressed with him at first, because I have always been an R. Kelly fan.’
“J. said that Robert ‘R.’ Kelly, who turned 50 in January, met her daughter backstage at a concert in Atlanta earlier that month. Soon enough, he’d invited her to fly out to the Indio concert on his dime. J. said she’d heard about past sexual misconduct accusations against Kelly, but wasn’t overly worried. She is a fiercely devoted stage mom — she and her husband of 22 years, Tim, a car dealer, had moved from Memphis to Atlanta to help their eldest child’s career — and was confident she could protect her daughter.
“‘In the back of our minds, we were thinking [my daughter] could be around him if I was with her,’ J. said. ‘It didn’t really hit home. Even with the Aaliyah situation, now that I think about it, ‘Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number’ … but you don’t think about that. You grew up with the song, and you like the song.’
“Two years later, J. and Tim are in a desperate fight to bring their daughter home. (BuzzFeed News verified their identities and full names in public records, but is withholding the alleged victim’s full name and her parents’ last name to protect her privacy.)”
Hilary McQuilkin produced this hour for broadcast.
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