Music

Everything We Learned From The Explosive New Documentary, ‘Surviving R. Kelly’

#MuteRKelly

R. Kelly Documentary R Kelly Documentary

Warning: this article discusses sexual and child abuse. 


Over the past three days, a massive six-part documentary series titled Surviving R. Kelly aired in the US, detailing the many allegations of sexual assault and pedophilia against singer R. Kelly. Here’s a run-down.

Airing on Lifetime, the six-hour series features interviews from several of his accusers, #MeToo founder Tarana Burke, his brothers, and ex-wife Andrea Kelly, who alleges R. Kelly has committed sexual abuse and acts of pedophilia across several decades. R. Kelly has continually denied all claims, ever since they were first publicly reported in 2000.

In addition to the many allegations, Surviving R. Kelly also details Kelly’s life, including his molestation as a child, his ascent as a singer, and his secret marriage to Aaliyah in 1994, when she was 15 and he was 33.

Surviving R. Kelly also features interviews with his former protégé Sparkle, who in 2002 alleged the singer had raped her 14-year-old niece, as seen in a sex tape. The courts ruled in Kelly’s favour.

Surviving R. Kelly is the latest in a series of recent investigative pieces on the singer, including an explosive BuzzFeed report from 2017 by Jim DeRogatis. DeRogatis alleged the singer was holding multiple women, potentially against their will, at his homes in Atlanta and Chicago, in what was called a “sex cult”.

In Surviving R. Kelly, we see a mother of one of Kelly’s alleged victims reunite with her daughter and stage a rescue from a Beverly Hills hotel.

In the final part of the documentary, it’s alleged that Kelly forces women to use buckets instead of bathrooms at his estate, and that the buckets could only be emptied with his permission.

We also learn that R. Kelly met one of his alleged victims in court while facing trial for child pornography charges in 2008, for which he was found not guilty. Fourteen-year-old fan Jerhonda Pace was among those who showed up in support, and two years later, they had sex.

“He talked about being molested as well, and he told me he was molested by an older guy in his neighbourhood,” she says (via The Grapevine). “I felt like we had a connection, because I told him I was sexually abused when I was four, six, and eight years old.”

The series also investigates why the many allegations and long-swirling rumours around Kelly (not to mention his media mis-steps) have failed to impact his career.

Namely, it examines the wider public’s reluctance to believe or care when young black women are abused or hurt, and the cognitive dissonance we as listeners use when dancing to the likes of ‘Ignition (Remix)’.

John Legend was one of few male musicians to feature in the documentary. When applauded online, Legend Tweeted that it was an “easy decision”, as he doesn’t “give a fuck about protecting a serial child rapist”.

In the final instalment, Chance the Rapper expressed regret for releasing a song with Kelly in 2015, analysing his own negligence as a black male to listen to black women.

“We’re programmed to really be hypersensitive to black male oppression,” he says. “It’s just prevalent in all media, and when you see n***as getting beat up by the police, it’s men.

“That’s a scene you see…slavery for a lot of people, they envision men in chains, but black women are exponentially a higher oppressed and violated group of people just in comparison to the whole world. Maybe I didn’t care because I didn’t value the accusers’ stories because they were black women.”

In a recent interview, executive producer dream hampton said that more than 50 celebrities declined to be involved in Surviving R. Kelly, including Jay-Z, Mary J. Blige, Lil Kim, Erykah Badu and Lady Gaga.

The documentary has given a boost to the #MuteRKelly hashtag, which is part of an ongoing social media campaign for listeners to boycott Kelly’s music. As hampton links in a recent interview, it’s that ongoing revenue that continually allows Kelly to settle sexual assault claims out of court.

Despite this, according to The Blast, Spotify streams of Kelly’s music have reportedly increased by 16 percent since the doco debuted. Last year, Spotify removed R. Kelly’s music from their curated playlists as part of a reconsidered policy against music promoting hate or abuse.

R. Kelly has responded to the documentary, saying he has not watched it but plans to sue. You can find a detailed run-down of each episode of Surviving R. Kelly on The Grapevine.


If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000.

Men can access anonymous confidential telephone counselling to help to stop using violent and controlling behaviour through the Men’s Referral Service on 1300 766 491.