More than a year after New York Times released an exposé of entertainment mogul Harvey Weinstein, which documented sexual abuse allegations of young actresses, Weinstein is effectively blacklisted by Hollywood and currently faces a class action lawsuit and sex assault charges in several cities by several women who’ve reported sexual harassment by him. We revisit these sexual abuse allegations now with R&B singer R. Kelly which have been alluded to in the documentary Surviving R. Kelly.
In the docuseries, they chronicle R. Kelly’s career and sexual abuses in the eyes of his inner circle and women were affiliated with Kelly. The interviews bring to light the hidden stories of the women who’ve been sexually abused and manipulated by Kelly under false beliefs of fame and mentorship. The rumors of Kelly having sex with young girls and taping them were a well-kept secret and within the documentary, they showed how the people around Kelly enabled him to continue his decades’ long sexual predation and abuse. Since the release of the documentary, R. Kelly has been dropped by his label Sony Music as more mounting sexual abuse allegation details are revealed.
History of R. Kelly’s sexual predation was hinted at back in 2008 with a lawsuit on child pornography charges. The scandal was broken by journalists Jim DeRogatis and Abdon Pallasch after they received a tape that showed someone who looked a lot like the R&B singer raping a girl and peeing in her mouth. The pair wrote about the tape and soon legal charges were brought against Kelly, which the singer fought aggressively and took prosecutors six years to bring to trial. Without the girl and the family willing to testify, charges were dropped to fourteen counts of child pornography. Unfortunately, with a lack of evidence to convince the jury, Kelly was acquitted of all charges. Since then, various lawsuits alleging Kelly had sex with minors have been filed against the singer, but most cases reached a settlement and never reached the courts.
Then in 2017 BuzzFeed News reported allegations from parents who claim R. Kelly is holding their daughters in a “cult” after several parents whose daughters have relations with R. Kelly cut off contact with them. They believe that their daughters are being brainwashed by Kelly and hold them hostage in his homes. Their allegations were corroborated by former members of Kelly’s inner circle, who shared details of the lives of women who live with Kelly.
“[He] calls his “babies,” are required to call him “Daddy” and must ask his permission to leave… Kelly confiscates the women’s cell phones, they said so they cannot contact their friends and family; he gives them new phones that they are only allowed to use to contact him or others with his permission,” said former members.
They also shared that if any of the women broke any of Kelly’s “rules”, he punished them physically and berated them into submitting to him. It’s no wonder why these women and their parents are scared to speak up against R. Kelly and report to law enforcement of the extensive trauma they’ve experienced out of fear or retaliation by R. Kelly and those who work for him.
The one glaring difference between Harvey Weinstein and R. Kelly’s sexual assault scandals is the race of the accusers. The victims who have spoken up about abuses of Weinstein have been predominantly white and many are actresses who are financially capable of hiring good lawyers to see Weinstein pay for his crimes. On the other hand, the women in Kelly’s scandal are working class, black women. Many who have accused Kelly were willing to settle because they felt Kelly wouldn’t receive the justice he deserved. DeRogatis shares in an interview with Jessica Hopper that black women in our society are the ones whose voices get over-looked and are degraded to “bitches, hoes, and gold-diggers” if they choose to speak out. The executive producer of the documentary, Dream Hampton, also cited race as one of the defining parts of the decades’ long abuses of R. Kelly.
“We know black boys are perceived to be older than they are by police, and we absolutely do an equivalent thing to black girls. We perceive them to be more sexual at an early age. We perceive them to be older,” said Hampton.
We can’t say that race doesn’t play a part in how this scandal is progressing– it is the reason no matter how anyone likes to paint the picture. When we look at the sexual abuse allegations of Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, and Larry Nassar, the majority of the people accusing them are white men and women who know they’ll receive support of the people on social media and news outlets– albeit unknowingly– because of their race. There is still that unspoken weight to a white person’s voice versus a person of color. When their scandals broke the men were quick to deny the accusations, but social media had already sided with the accusers with the belief that these white men in high positions of power intentionally took advantage solely because they can. This falls into the well-known narrative of the white man claiming what they believe is entitled to them and a prerequisite of their status in the industry.
On the other hand, the allegations of abuse that followed Bill Cosby and R. Kelly for decades were overlooked because they’re revered as revolutionary figures in entertainment back when it was difficult to break the racial divide in Hollywood. We took their journey to become iconic figures as a reason to question the allegations despite the abundance of testimonies of the victims and people who worked with them. We believe that since they worked so hard to overcome the barriers of race in Hollywood, they can do no wrong and people easily question and make quick judgments about the circumstances of these crimes versus their light-skinned counterparts whom they believe more readily.
So, what do we do now? What do we learn? With the #metoo movement, we’re finally getting the justice that R. Kelly and all these sexual abusers in the entertainment business deserve. And we should definitely enact social death to R. Kelly and all those who enabled him to continue his sexual abuse. But it’s important for us to remember that all voices, regardless of race should be listened to with the same weight and gravitas it deserves. They are survivors and we should take the time to listen to all of them.