After shooting threats, lawsuits, & many celebrities refusing to appear, Lifetime’s ‘Surviving R. Kelly’ premieres
The three-night docuseries Surviving R. Kelly chronicling the events in the life of the singer who has endured a 2008 child pornography case, a 1994 marriage to then 15-year old R&B starlet Aaliyah Haughton, and piles of other sexual abuse allegations has finally premiered Thursday night on Lifetime after lawsuits, a shooting threat and other drama. Veteran music journalist and activist dream hampton told Shadow and Act, “When I said I’m at war with R. Kelly, this is what I meant. I don’t ever want to underestimate him. This is a man who has built systems around his abuse, which is something that you’ll see in the docuseries.”
For the documentary, hampton says she asked several of Kelly’s frequent collaborators, but none of them except John Legend was willing to speak out about the controversial singer on camera. “John Legend was the only one [who participated],” hampton told Shadow and Act, “I asked Jay-Z, I asked Mary J. Blige, I asked Lil Kim, Erykah Badu, Dave Chappelle… I mean, most people just don’t want to touch it. I remember Ahmir [‘Questlove’ Thompson] was like, ‘I would do anything for you but I can’t do this.’ It’s not because they support him, it’s because it’s so messy and muddy. It’s that turning away that has allowed this to go on.”
Other than John Legend, the documentary features Tarana Burke, the Black woman who started the #MeToo movement well before it was latched onto and co-opted by wealthy and hyper-visible white women in Hollywood; Andrea Kelly, the ex-wife of R.Kelly who has accused the singer publicly of abusing her during their marriage; R.Kelly collaborator Sparkle (whose niece appears on the infamous R.Kelly child porn court tape); as well as R. Kelly survivors Asante McGee, Jerhonda Pace, Kitti Jones, Lisa Van Allen, and Lizette Martinez.
At a New York City screening on December 28th, a shooting threat was called in against the theater which was traced back to Chicago. Andrea Kelly insinuated R. Kelly was likely behind it. “It’s sad… could you be more obvious?” said Andrea Kelly. “Of all the theaters on any night and there’s premieres happening every night of the week and you want us to believe that it was a coincidence? Not only was it desperate, it was dumb.”
R. Kelly has also threatened to file a federal lawsuit against Lifetime. Brian Nix, R.Kelly’s lawyer sent a letter to the company warning them that the documentary contains lies and untruths, stating “some of the girls are lying, but that the budget was too high to turn back now.” Kelly and his supporters have also tried to frame the survivors who came forward as fame chasers, which is a typical abuse tactic.
But in addition to Kelly, Aaliyah’s mother, Diane Haughton has also taken issue with some things she says are not factual in the documentary, such as a claim made by Jovante Cunningham, a then 27-year-old dancer who said she saw Kelly engaging in the statutory rape of a then-underage Aaliyah in the back of a tour bus. Haughton released a statement saying, “The woman and so-called backup singer that describes seeing, meeting or ever breathing the same air as my daughter, Aaliyah, is lying and is a liar. My husband and I were always on tour with her and at interviews and every place she went throughout her entire career. Whoever this woman is, I have never seen her before anywhere on planet earth, until now.”
The documentary will continue on Lifetime today, and run through Saturday. “I think that social death is a real thing and a possible, just thing,” hampton told Shadow and Act. “So my hope is that we truly turn away from him. My wish was that it would’ve been 15 years ago.”