The first episode of Lifetime’s much talked-about, six-part docuseries Surviving R Kelly has aired in the UK, via the Crime + Investigation channel.
R Kelly vehemently denies the claims presented in the documentary. Lifetime have said they stand by the documentary.
“Surviving R Kelly is a six-part documentary series exploring Kelly’s personal and professional history, showcasing the survivors who are emerging from the shadows to unite their voices and share their allegations of abuse,” Kannie Yu LaPack, a representative for the network, said in a statement provided to USA Today.
“This documentary also tells the stories of families who are currently still trying to get their girls home.”
According to LaPack, the details in the documentary have been “legally vetted and corroborated”.
Here are 5 of the most disturbing revelations from Surviving R Kelly.
1) He has been hiding in plain sight
In 1994, R Kelly stood in the blurred background for the artwork of Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number, the debut album by his protege, collaborator, and then-wife Aaliyah.
In the early 2000s, as he faced 21 counts of child pornography over a video allegedly showing him performing sex acts with and urinating on a minor the singer adopted the alias “The Pied Piper of R&B”. In folk tales, the Pied Piper was a man who lured children from their homes with his music.
“We are talking about dozens of young women telling the same story about a man who has sold 65 million records and been in the world spotlight for three decades,” Jim DeRogatis, the reporter who has led investigations into the allegations against R Kelly for years, told Variety. “It is such a big story, and I think people have never wanted to believe it. We are in this Trump-ian moment where the bigger the sin and the more public it is, the harder people seem have believing it.
“This isn’t new, though,” he added, claiming that a well-placed source, “who I spoke with for seven years, told me around the time of the indictment that ‘Robert is much, much smarter than people give him credit for. He knows exactly what he’s doing, and he’s playing us all for suckers’.”
“In ‘Heaven I Need a Hug’, Kelly sings on the chorus: ‘All I really need is a sign or a word from God/ So shower down on me, wet me with your love.’
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“The acts on the tape included fellatio, intercourse and urination. The source said: ‘I know Robert, he knows exactly what he’s doing. He’s f***ing with all of us.’”
“One of the things about R Kelly, not unlike Woody Allen, is that he’s hiding in plain sight,” dream hampton, executive producer of Surviving R Kelly, explained in an interview with Noisey. “‘It Seems Like You’re Ready,’ and ‘Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number’ is him flaunting his predatory behaviour in his lyrics.”
2) Aaliyah looked ‘scared’ during Kelly’s secret marriage to her when she was 15
Demetrius Smith, Kelly’s former personal assistant, admitted in the documentary that he was a witness to the 1994 wedding ceremony between a 15-year-old Aaliyah and 27-year-old Kelly.
“He married Aaliyah. I was in the room when they got married,” Smith said, going on to admit that he forged documents stating Aaliyah was 18 for the couple’s makeshift wedding, which took place in a hotel room in Illinois.
“I’m not proud of that – I had papers forged for them because Aaliyah was underage,” Smith said. “Aaliyah looked worried and scared,” he continued. “I wanted so much to grab Aaliyah and talk to her. I wanted so much to talk to her because she gave me a look like she wanted me to talk to her.”
According to the docuseries, Aaliyah was paid $100 to prevent legal action, although Aaliyah’s estate denies this claim, among others made in the film. In January 2019, Kelly’s lawyer admitted they married when Aaliah was 15, but claimed she lied about her age.
One of Kelly’s former backup singers, Jovante Cunningham, claimed she witnessed a number of his sexual encounters with underaged girls in the Nineties, including with Aaliyah.
However, Aaliyah’s mother Diane Haughton has since refuted the claim, branding Cunningham a “liar” in a public statement.
“My husband and I were always on tour with her and at interviews and every place she went throughout her entire career,” she said. “Whoever this woman is, I have never seen her before anywhere on planet earth, until now.”
3) Kelly starved his alleged victims when they “disobeyed” him
Jerhonda Pace, who met Kelly outside the courthouse during his 2008 child pornography trial, claims she became sexually involved with the singer when she was 16. Pace came forward in a separate 2017 BuzzFeed story about an alleged “sex cult” run by the singer, where she shared a similar accusations about controlling behaviour.
“When you disobey him or question him, that’s considered breaking the rules,” claims Pace in the docuseries. “The No-Eat list is somebody who ‘disobeys Daddy.’ That’s when he decides to starve you.”
One anonymous former employee quoted in the docuseries corroborated Pace’s account of mistreatment, saying that once a young woman was confined to a room, she would often go for days without food. “I started to notice the system of how the girls were handled in the house,” they said. The initial BuzzFeed report details behaviour that is consistent with the accounts described in Surviving R Kelly.
4) The Surviving R Kelly team helped to rescue of one of Kelly's alleged victims
In 2009, Pace said, she introduced the Kelly to 17-year-old Dominique Gardener, another fan she met online. Pace claimed the two teens began living in Kelly’s Chicago home, but she was never able to interact with Gardener in the house. Gardener, who allegedly lived with Kelly for nine years, doesn’t offer a first person account in the documentary. However, her escape last May from a hotel room in Beverly Hills, initiated by her mother, Michelle Kramer, was captured in extraordinary footage during the filming of Surviving R Kelly.
“(Kelly) always have her staying at the same hotels, so that’s where I want to go,” Kramer said, arriving at a hotel and successfully finding her daughter's room. She was accompanied by a camera crew and a hotel manager.
“Nikka, I need you to come home,” Kramer is shown saying repeatedly to Gardner, using her daughter's nickname. “Nikka, don’t do this. If I came this far, Nikka, don’t you dare.”
Gardner told Kramer to come back at 6pm. When Kramer returned, the hotel manager told her that Gardner called 911, telling police that Kramer was not her actual mother. The hotel manager informed Kramer that a police report was filed, and the police would be called if she did not leave.
Rather than leaving, Kramer managed to get into the hotel bathroom, where Gardner met her with her bag. They escaped together into a car, with Gardner crying as she said: “That’s the hardest decision I ever had to make.”
The documentary later revealed that Gardner returned to Kelly three days after her escape, but later left again, and is back with her family.
5) People in the music industry are still reluctant to speak out against him
John Legend was one of the few, and certainly most high profile, artist who consented to appear in the documentary.
“Most people just don’t want touch it,” she said. “It’s not because they support him [Kelly], it’s because it’s so messy and muddy. It’s that turning away that has allowed this to go on.“
In a since-deleted tweet reported by Pitchfork, Questlove said: “I always thought Kels was trash. My reason for declining the R Kelly docu that I support 10000000 per cent is I didn’t wanna be in the ‘good times’ portion of the doc, like stanning for his ‘genius’. I was asked to talk about his genius. I do not nor have I EVER stanned for him.”
Erykah Badu, who has caused controversy in recent months by appearing to defend Kelly, denied being asked by the Surviving team.
Following the release of the documentary in the US, Lady Gaga apologised for collaborating with Kelly on the track “Do What U Want (With My Body)”.