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“Surviving R. Kelly” and Why Decades of Abuse Finally Comes to Light

I know everybody has probably already heard of the Lifetime docuseries Surviving R. Kelly.

If you haven’t heard of it, let me briefly explain. Surviving R. Kelly is a six-part Lifetime docuseries that goes into extensive detail on years of manipulation and abuse women endured at the hands of R. Kelly, a famous musical artist. The docuseries goes back to the very beginning; it explores Kelly’s childhood and his upbringing, perhaps offering a mild explanation as to what made him the man he is today. Since Kelly is a powerful figure in the music industry, the girls he showed interest in often felt like he was their big shot and he could also make them into stars as big as him. However, these girls were just girls—most of Kelly’s victims were between the ages of 13-17 when they first met him, which made them easily susceptible to manipulation. The series goes through almost every allegation throughout the years made against Kelly, from his marriage to then-15-year-old Aaliyah, hanging around high schools to pick up teenage girls, and most recently, keeping women in a “sex-cult” and controlling every aspect of their lives.

This might be surprising to some, but Kelly has always been a complete scumbag. In fact, he has always been in the news for sexual assault allegations, including several lawsuits involving sexual battery, false imprisonment, sex with underage girls and most importantly, a revolting sex tape involving a girl under the age of 15. Many of these cases only made headlines for a few weeks or so and then were completely forgotten about. In fact, a lot of times when I bring up this docuseries to people, the answer I usually get is, “Really? Him? What did he do?”

What didn’t Kelly do? There are so many news articles that (alongside the docuseries) go through an extensive list of sexual assault cases against Kelly, most of them involving underage girls. Because of this, I had made it a point a long time ago to stop listening to Kelly’s music even though I grew up on it. Songs like “Ignition (Remix)” and “Step in the Name of Love” were absolute staples at birthday parties and cookouts. And to be honest, I think this is why it was so easy for him to fly under the radar.

Kelly was, and even in this time, somehow continues to be a huge influence in music and society, but most especially in the black community. And all throughout these allegations and lawsuits, we protected him. Many interviews during Kelly’s trials featured women and men, often black, defending him with all their might and discrediting the stories of the victims. In fact, even Lady Gaga said in an interview back in 2013 that her collaboration with Kelly was a “bond” between them since they had both had “very untrue things written about [them].” However, at the wake of the docuseries, many stars including Lady Gaga, Phoenix and Chance the Rapper have apologized for their collaborations with the singer.

But why wasn’t it an issue before? Why is it now that people are starting to give a shit? Many people equate the downfall of Kelly to the rising #MeToo movement and society’s growing intolerance for sexual assault. Others suggest that victims refusing to speak out and parents of victims discrediting allegations in the past resulted in many people supporting him instead. These two are very strong points; however, I think something Chance the Rapper said in his interview holds some truth in all of this.

While talking about his collaborations with Kelly, Chance talks about how society, especially the black community, gets “hypersensitive” about the oppression of a successful black man, especially when it is at the hands of black women. “Maybe I didn’t care [about the collaboration]  because I didn’t value the accusers’ stories because they were black women,” he said, and I think this holds more truth than we can handle.

I think the reason Kelly was so powerful during these allegations, and continues to be a powerful force that seems to thrive no matter what is thrown at him is because his victims are black women or people of colour. When you have a successful black man that everybody in his community loves, and you have a black woman who accuses him of something terrible, it is not hard for society to pick a side. Many of the women who have stood up against Kelly have been deemed attention seekers or gold diggers and not victims. And it is easy to know why.

But what was considered an easy pass in the early 2000s is clearly not the standard now. I am glad something like Surviving R. Kelly had to happen in order for POC voices to be heard, and I am especially glad that a movement like #MuteRKelly is gaining the traction it deserves. It’s time we listen to all voices of assault, even if they are against childhood icons like R. Kelly. But so far, despite all of this, R. Kelly has denied any allegations against him.

If you would like to watch Surviving R. Kelly, you can catch episodes on Lifetime and iTunes, or video clips on Youtube.

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Kirah Ougniwi

Western '19

Her Campus Western junior editor studying English literature and creative writing. Would like to pursue a career in writing, but for now, will sell-out for money.
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