R. Kelly: 24 years of ignored allegations
By Meena Mrakade
On January 3rd, 2018, the first of a six-part Lifetime docuseries entitled “Surviving R. Kelly” aired. Andrea Kelly, Tarana Burke, Sparkle, Kitti Jones, and Wendy Williams are the five women who courageously share their experiences of sexual, physical, and mental abuse with the celebrated R&B artist. Counting close to 2 million viewers, it was the channel’s highest rated program in two years.
A few days before its release, in an attempt to capitalize off the documentary, R. Kelly released a song, “Born to My Music”, but failed to keep the attention on it when social media erupted in outrage and support for the victims.
Producers of the docuseries have stated that they tried to contact a number of celebrities who had worked with R. Kelly to take part in the series, but John Legend was the only major artist willing to accept the offer. Following the praise he received for appearing in “Surviving R. Kelly”, Legend tweeted that he “didn’t give a f*** about protecting a serial child rapist”, and that taking part in the documentary “didn't feel risky at all”, affirming that he believes all the women who came forward. Lady Gaga and Chance the Rapper are two other artists who apologized for working with R. Kelly, Gaga even stating that their collaboration “Do What U Want (With My Body)” would be pulled from streaming services.
In an interview, R. Kelly’s attorney states that the artist had not and will not watch the docuseries, and calls it “trash TV, [with] a bunch of disgruntled people looking for their fifteen minutes of TMZ fame”. This is not the first time that allegations against R. Kelly are quickly being forgotten. In 1994, a marriage between 27-year-old Kelly and 15-year-old singer Aaliyah supposedly occurred in a secret ceremony, but was annulled less than a year later. In 1998, he settled a lawsuit for $250,000 claiming that he had a relationship with a 15-year-old when he was 24. In 2008, a jury spent less than one day deliberating on fourteen counts of child pornography against Kelly, and found him not guilty. In 2017, three sets of parents accused Kelly of holding their young daughters in “an abusive cult”. These are just a few of the legal incidents R. Kelly has faced in the past two decades.
According to sources close to him, the Grammy-award winning singer plans to sue everyone that was involved in the series’ making, calling it a “vendetta” against him. The attorney also goes on to state that since “no one reported anything” while it was happening, and that the victims are doing nothing but jumping on a bandwagon to try to “get back in the limelight” after they were no longer connected to such a famous individual.
The courage and bravery of the survivors and producers involved in making “Surviving R. Kelly” pushes to avoid giving free passes and excuses to people simply because they are talented celebrities. We have seen, particularly in the past few years, too many allegations being swept under the rug in fear that people’s careers, adorned with awards, money, and fame, but also plagued with claims of abuse, pedophilia and predatory behaviours, would be toppled. We have seen victim after victim being blamed for what their abuser has done. R. Kelly is nothing but another name added to a long list of individuals who assume that their power and superiority give them total impunity over their actions. It is up to us, the bystanders, to listen and support the survivors who demand consequences.