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Review: ‘Surviving R. Kelly’ and the Value of A Public Forum

Review: ‘Surviving R. Kelly’ and the Value of A Public Forum

The New Year started with a miniseries that riveted much of America for three nights. In fact, the engagement online was the largest for any Lifetime movie or show. The outrage showed on social media. Millions of tweets bore the anger, the disbelief, and even frustration with the content being shown. An overwhelming majority carried sadness and sympathy — for the girls involved, their families, and Black girls in general. There was so much gut-wrenching testimony and expert witnesses bolstering each and every behavior. The show was very tough to watch, and probably triggered most of the country. So many of us left the show wondering if there is a point, or was it purely for entertainment purposes.

Things are Happening

Now, Kelly is under investigation in Georgia. According to TMZ, the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office reached out to the survivors and families featured in Surviving R. Kelly. They then opened an investigation against the singer that is ongoing.

The same thing is happening in Chicago. There, according to the Lifetime miniseries, Kelly kept some of the women in his studio and other properties. Tuesday night, three days after the miniseries finale, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Fox put out a plea to all of the survivors in the area. She urged them to come forward. Here’s a clip of that address, courtesy ABC7 Chicago.

Two women have come forward with new accounts against the singer. A third woman, Faith Rodgers, told her story during the Surviving R. Kelly miniseries. More than a week after the series aired, Rodgers came forward with her attorney Gloria Allred to tell of threats she has gotten from the singer and the lawsuits she has ongoing.

The scrutiny continues with the City of Chicago inspecting the studio that R. Kelly occupies in the city. They found undisclosed evidence of residential use on the property. This jibes with what one girl’s parents claimed in the miniseries. The Surviving R. Kelly crew documented the parents of Azriel Clary staking out the building because they were told that Kelly was holding their daughter on the premises. They were forced to leave eventually without substantiating their claims. This news helps, but no one has said if any of the girls were found inside. Kelly may be looking at eviction for his trouble.

And the trouble doesn’t stop there. Today, Sony Music announced that it was dropping the singer from its roster. According to Variety, the singer tweeted earlier in 2018 that he had an album on the way. However, Sony Music has “dissolved” its relationship with the singer, but his music still remains on RCA’s website as of this reporting.

But is It Enough

The amount of testimony presented in the documentary was overwhelming, leaving so many of us to wonder why hasn’t this man been prosecuted? This is even after the infamous pornography charges that he was acquitted from in a 2003 trial. The allegations have piled up since then and have escalated into kidnapping and imprisonment charges. The witnesses in the documentary spoke to that much. In fact, they went into great enough detail that the expert testimony used to augment the witness accounts worked to teach audiences about some of the nuances of domestic abuse, grooming behavior, and sexual assault. This will work to give people the language and resources with which to discuss these topics more openly and also to spot them in situations that are not so obvious.

Even if that miniseries is not enough to truly end the alleged crimes it reported, the information presented has worked to already sniff out predatory men. A few within the documentary. Toure, the journalist whose infamous interview with R. Kelly was the closest the man got to admitting that he slept with underage women, has a sexual assault case dug up on social media. So, had Charlemagne, the radio DJ who also guest starred on Surviving R. Kelly. Both have been dragged through the court of public opinion as social media users ply their newfound vocabulary and insight to debate the men and their acts.

Despite what happens to R. Kelly, the information packed into the six hours of the miniseries is enough to educate and hopefully to liberate women in danger.

Those six hours that riveted and triggered so many of us did start the ball rolling in some direction. That is important. It means that the voices collected by Lifetime and director Dream Hampton came together to make enough noise, to become powerful. This means that no one, no matter how rich or influential they may be, can skirt justice forever. It also means that public exposure still works where justice is dragging her feet. The series did stumble a bit in trying to be unbiased and show all sides, but it rebounded once such thinking was abandoned in the third hour.

You can catch replays of the Surviving R. Kelly miniseries on On Demand and on the Lifetime Network (check your local listings for times).

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