In 2002, R. Kelly was indicted on 21 counts of child pornography. That same year, “Ignition (Remix)” topped the charts and became a party classic. In 2018, Kelly finally received public condemnation for his well known history of abuse against young women through the #MeToo movement and the consequenting #MuteRKelly campaign. What took us so long?
Lifetime’s newest docu-miniseries, ‘‘Surviving R. Kelly,” exposes the legendary R&B singer’s alleged predation through in-depth interviews with survivors, psychologists and music insiders. The television show is well researched, emotional and important as it documents Kelly’s journey from abused child to violent perpetrator.
The show claims Kelly seeks underaged and emotioanlly damaged young women in order to gain power and control in his relationships. As his fame progressed, Kelly was able to attract young fans and trap them for sex in the guise of advancing their music careers.
Once the women are infatuated by Kelly, he subjects them to his “rules.” These rules include calling Kelly “daddy,” having to ask permission to eat or use the bathroom and engaging in degrading sexual acts and intercourse with other women. This treatment advanced into Kelly’s alleged “Sex Cult,” as detailed first by BuzzFeed, in which Kelly brainwashes his victims and confines them to his house.
With serial abuse spanning from the 1980s, the the show immediately begs the question of why nothing was done to stop Kelly’s behavior. As Mikki Kendall, co-founder of Hood Feminism, states thirty minutes into the first episode, “No one cared because we were black girls.”
This is a powerful and tragic reality. And as several interviewers ask throughout the series, would the reaction have been different if Kelly targeted white women and girls?
The sheer amount of survivors indicates the serial nature of Kelly’s actions and it seems incomprehensible that it would go unnoticed for so long. While the series is painful and difficult to watch, at no time time does the series feel exploitative. Instead, it’s a cry of rage.
The last episode ends with survivors and their families as if they were speaking directly to R. Kelly. Finally, their voices are being heard.
While R. Kelly continues to be investigated, the series has created greater awareness of his wrongdoings and domestic violence as a whole. The series had a high average of 2.1 million total viewers and NBC found that calls to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) hotline increased by 20% after the documentary was aired. Prior to the show’s release and in response to the #MuteRKelly campaign, several concerts were cancelled and his songs were taken off sponsored playlists on Spotify and Pandora.
While legal action against R. Kelly continues, his horrendous history is now common knowledge in the news circuit. Hopefully it will stay that way.