Surviving R. Kelly: Episode 1

[Content Note: Child Sexual Assault]

Surviving R. Kelly. Episode 1: The Pied Piper of R&B

I'm going to live-tweet the watch, but I don't want to spam the #SurvivingRKelly hash with each tweet because that seems like I could end up talking over people on the hash. I don't actually have very much experience with the artist; the only song of his that I own came with the MAGIC MIKE XXL soundtrack ("Cookie") which I didn't know came as part of the album until after I'd bought it.

I *do* have about a billion Lady Gaga songs and I'm super disappointed that she has refused to speak out about this, especially after (a) working with him and (b) using sexual assault survivors in her Oscar performance. The Lady Gaga thing REALLY upsets me. This isn't 'just' someone who has been in the same room with him or had glancing contact; she has made rape activism part-and-parcel of her platform. If someone tries to make themselves one of the recognizable faces of rape activism in the music industry and then just 'no comment' disappears when Black girls are at stake? That hurts a lot. I have already been around the mulberry bush with Lady Gaga stans, so if you're new here (a) I've always been a big fan of hers, (b) I own a zillion of her songs and sing them all the time in the car, (c) I'm a rape survivor too. I know about triggers.

S1:E1 opens with the words "R. Kelly has denied all claims relating to sexual assault, domestic violence / abuse, and sexual misconduct with minors."

Interviewer: "Why do you want to tell your story now?"

Voiceover: "I felt like my silence allowed it to continue."

Already I want to cry. Survivors don't owe the world our stories, but so often we feel like we do because we want so badly to protect others.

"A part of me made me feel like maybe *I* did something to make him treat me that way."

"I Believe I Can Fly" plays over the sequence and it's like I'm instantly carried back to the 90s and the overlay of the song with everything this documentary is about just makes my stomach lurch and I mean that's intended so well done, but wow. The camera rushes up to the 2002 charges of 21 counts of child pornography. "Jurors found him not guilty on all charges."

Older interview. Q: "Do you like teenage girls?"

R. Kelly: *pause* "When you say 'teenage', how old are we talking?"


Voiceover: "I had to wait for permission to be able to use the bathroom."

CHICAGO 1970s flashes on the screen. We hear about his childhood and being a victim of sexual assault himself. I *think* everyone on my feed knows this, but being a victim of child sexual assault doesn't force people to grow up and perpetuate that cycle. I was a victim of child sexual assault. A *lot* of us were. Given how many child sexual assault victims there are (lots) and how many sexual assaulters there are (lots), the law of averages alone is going to arrange for some overlap I would think. I'm not saying THIS documentary is suggesting that; it's a pet peeve of mine with Law & Order SVU and stuff of that nature, so I bring it up when I can.

Words on the screen: "Jovante Cunningham, Backup Singer / Dancer. Met R. Kelly at Age 14"

I just. They keep talking about R. Kelly hanging out near a high school even though he's... in his 20s at this point? I think? It's... wow, REALLY UNCOMFORTABLE. This is one of those things where you're sitting there thinking "how the fuck" but of course you have to be able to let dads and brothers and such pick up their kids but at the same time maybe it shouldn't be okay for men to hang around high schools picking up girls???

I keep thinking about a lot of the #MeToo stuff around white men that I've retweeted in the past year and a half and this ALREADY feels SO MUCH WORSE in so many ways and how am I only on episode 1 of 6.

Mikki Kendall! I knew she was in this. God, I just have SO MUCH respect for the women in this documentary. They had to have known going into this that there would be a hateful backlash against them for speaking their truth. Mikki talks about meeting R. Kelly when she was "12, maybe 13?" and they would hang out at the McDonalds and I don't know how old he is but I'm PRETTY SURE he's in his 20s at this point and I just kajljlkajdlakjdsl.

"There was a bunch of girls in Kenwood jackets, high school clothes". So not like anyone can plausibly claim that the girls seemed like *they* were in their 20s. (A claim that always grinds my teeth. I am old enough that people in their 20s look like ACTUAL INFANTS to me, I never ever ever ever ever believe guys who claim they "didn't know" someone was underage.)

Kendall: "He tries to slide in in that space where girls don't know better yet, where they can't necessarily spot a predator. ...People will say 'well why didn't anyone notice?' The answer is that we all noticed; no one cared because we were Black girls." @Karnythia, you nailed this interview, you are *amazing*.

Jovante talks about how she and her friend were sent out to find other girls to bring to the recording studio. "The first time I witnessed a sexual act in the studio was during the recording of Slow Dance, the remix. He had one of my teenage friends in the booth with him bent over. ...And we were all right there." Oh god. My heart is breaking for these girls. "None of us were of age. None of us."

"We were just trying to make it. We had big dreams." She's crying. I'm crying. That must have been such a scary time for a 14 year old girl. His music teacher speaks out about how often, "consistently", she had to tell him he had "no business" being around young girls.

New text on the screen: "Aaliyah, singer. Met R. Kelly at Age 12."

Toure: "Aaliyah's first album is made by R. Kelly and it's called 'Age Ain't Nothing But A Number'. And the title song is about a young girl who's trying to get an older guy to go all the way with her." Oh no. Oh hon.

Kathy Chaney (who is amazing in her interviews in this) : "Age Ain't Nothing But A Number is definitely a perfect song for hiding in plain sight."

This man is saying that 'they were together all the time', talking and laughing, and I'm just having a lot of issues with what 20-something year old man wants to be 'together all the time' with a ~12 year old girl. Wait, okay, I'm googling this. He was 27 when he married Aaliyah, age 15. Did I get that right? That is aklsdahdkjsadljl.

Music Producer Craig Williams is saying he met Aaliyah and "At that point I didn't see anything, uh, unusual."

Jamilah Lemieux: "It wasn't until I was maybe a teenager myself that it really bothered me just how much older he was than her. At the time I remember thinking, 'That's not right. I don't have no grown man friends.'" YES THANK YOU. "I can't wrap my brain around having a grown-up, period, as a friend." YES THANK YOU. Not like THAT kind of friend-friend. Peer-friend.

New screen text. "Summer 1994: Aaliyah and R. Kelly appear on BET's 'Video Soul'."

Toure: "They are asked direct questions. 'Are you guys dating?' And they would not give direct answers. They would both give these vague answers that left it all up in the air. So they knew this wasn't right."

BET video, interviewer: "And for the record, you are how old?"

Aaliyah: "That's a secret. Shh."

I think the point Toure made that R. Kelly knew this wasn't right or he wouldn't have danced around the questions regarding their relationship is a really powerful point.

Jovante talks about sleeping on the tour bus and "The door flew open on the bus. Robert was having sex with Aaliyah." Oh my god, these poor girls. And what can you do in that position? This guy is powerful, popular, everyone thinks he's THE best thing since sliced bread. Of course a part of you is going to normalize that he must be right. I would've in their position. When I was being abused, it was so hard. And I was older than these babies, even though I was a baby myself.

Demetrius Smith tells how R. Kelly came to him worried that he (Robert) thought Aaliyah was pregnant. "He married Aaliyah. I was in the room when they got married." The camera zooms in on the certification of marriage. Aaliyah is (wrongly) listed as age 18. Robert is listed as 27. She was actually 15. There's such a huge world of difference between 15 and 18. God. Demetrius Smith: "I'm not proud of that. I forged, I had papers forged for them. But Aaliyah was underage."

Screen text: "Within two months, the marriage was annulled."

I just feel numb? How many adults were involved in R. Kelly's and Aaliyah's career at this point?

Demetrius Smith: "Her parents had the last say-so."

Screen text: "R. Kelly paid Aaliyah one hundred dollars for her agreement not to pursue legal action."

Excuse the fuck me?

Lemieux: "Where was the outrage? Where was Essence? Where was Ebony? Where was the local news? Where was anyone? Like, what was this not, in that moment, full stop?" GOOD QUESTION YES

An important discussion follows about how many songs in our music history have positioned young teenage girls as sexual targets. "Jerry Lee Lewis famously married his 13 year old cousin Myra, and they flaunted their relationship." (Holy shit, I did not know that.) "Elvis Presley was more subtle and careful with his teenage girlfriend Priscilla, whom he brought [from Germany!] to live with him as a young teenager."

They talk about how letting the whole world know gives an abuser power over their victim; the victim sees that no one is stepping forward to help them, so they stay quiet and fearful. I think that's such a good point; people will marvel that an abuser didn't "hide it better", but letting it be known was actually PART of the control. Who is going to try to tell, to try to escape, when the whole WORLD knows and doesn't care?

And you think back to that BET interview where they were asked if they were dating and how easy it would've been to lie and say "no", but he chose not to say "no". The more of an "open secret" an abuse situation is, the more helpless the victim feels because there's no one to "tell". There's nothing TO "tell" when everyone knows or at least strongly suspects.

Craig, what the fuck? These adult men are talking about the things they'd observe or the ways in which they abetted all this and "it's part of the lifestyle" and how do you even???? Oh, well, it's it's part of a LIFESTYLE then I guess there's nothing you can do to help these babies, Craig????

Screen text: "Lizzette Martinez, Aspiring Singer. Met R. Kelly at Age 17."

(I wish it would say how old he was in contrast, but if this is post-marriage to Aaliyah that would make him over 27?)

"I didn't know how to say no." Oh god. This is a gut punch. That's the end of episode 1. I'll plan for episode 2 tomorrow; I don't think I can do more tonight. This is so hard. I can see why they broke it up into six parts.


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