In 1994, singer R. Kelly illegally married singer Aaliyah when she was 15 years old. In 2002, a video was released to the public of Kelly having sex with a then 14-year-old girl. The same year, he was indicted on 21 charges related to child pornography. It is only now in 2019 that we are beginning to widely reject Kelly for his pedophilia and abuse.
His abuse, until now, continued to be overlooked because Kelly’s victims are comprised almost entirely of young black girls and women who have been systematically and historically ignored, neglected and even blamed in criminal cases like this one. The six-episode Lifetime docuseries “Surviving R. Kelly” is an extremely detailed, captivating and shocking account of the decades of abuse perpetrated by R&B superstar R. Kelly.
Producer Dream Hampton did a masterful job weaving together interviews, pictures and old footage to create a raw and visceral experience. Celebrities and musicians who collaborated with Kelly, ex-girlfriends, his ex-wife and psychologists are only a few examples of those who came forward with insights into Kelly’s abusive behavior during his rise to fame in the early ’90s.
The horrors of his abuse border on a cult based in sexual slavery, according to the accounts of multiple women in the documentary. Kelly collected girls from everywhere he went and lured them in with his charm and fame. He promised to make them a star. Instead, girls found themselves trapped with a monster who controlled their every move. They first believed they were in a serious relationship with a beloved artist, but then slowly became conditioned to his abuse.
Over 50 survivors spoke out in the documentary about abusive rules Kelly made them follow. They had to refer to Kelly as “daddy,” ask permission to eat, talk, use the restroom and move between rooms in the house. These girls were often starved and isolated as punishment for making Kelly angry.
The absolute terror of living like this left me feeling sick for the girls who missed out on their adolescence and were taken advantage of. According to TMZ, Chicago Police recently interviewed Kelly after the documentary aired regarding two women being held against their will in his Trump Tower apartment.
After watching this documentary and learning that he still abuses women to this day, you wonder how Kelly has evaded prison for so long. Despite several lawsuits against him by victims of statutory rape, which were privately settled, and indictments on dozens of charges, his fame and funds have kept this R&B star out of prison.
Upon the release of “Surviving R. Kelly,” RCA Records finally dropped the artist as a client, both Apple Music and Spotify have removed Kelly from curated playlists, and Lifetime experienced their best ratings in two years after releasing the docuseries. Despite these steps forward, Kelly still benefits financially from streaming, and still allegedly abuses women in his home every day without repercussions. With the release of the series, the world is reacting and condemning Kelly, leaving me to feel hopeful that his victims will see justice be served.
However, I am fearful and disgusted to think about the stories we have yet to hear of other notable men that have destroyed women’s lives.
This series illuminates some of the most challenging issues facing our country today concerning widespread sexual violence and racism. It also sheds light on just how invincible we allow celebrities to become. One of the biggest questions in the media today that we must ask ourselves is, amidst the success of the #MeToo movement, can and should we separate the art from the artist? And when?