Lifetime's 'Surviving R. Kelly' May Prompt Legal Action Against The Singer

Jan 9, 2019
Originally published on January 9, 2019 11:02 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

"Surviving R. Kelly" is a Lifetime docuseries focusing on sexual abuse allegations against the R&B artist. Accusers say Kelly ran a sex cult in Georgia. And in Chicago, Kim Foxx, the state's attorney in Cook County, Ill., is encouraging other people to come forward and tell their stories.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KIM FOXX: Please come forward. There is nothing that can be done to investigate these allegations without the cooperation of both victims and witnesses.

GREENE: Now, Lifetime has said that this docuseries has reached nearly 19 million total viewers on two different cable channels. And it is stirring a debate on social media over why there wasn't more outcry and more investigations sooner. We're joined by NPR TV critic Eric Deggans. Good morning, Eric.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: Good morning.

GREENE: So this is a lot of viewers. And it sounds like there are a lot of people across the country who are talking about this and tweeting about it and having conversations about it. I mean, what are you paying attention to?

DEGGANS: Yeah, there's definitely been a lot of conversation. First, we should point out that R. Kelly in the past has denied allegations like this. His representatives have pushed back. And so we want to make that...

GREENE: Sure.

DEGGANS: ...Plain. There's been a tremendous amount of talk about this on social media, especially. Lifetime is saying that this docuseries is one of its most talked-about series on social media in the network's history. And a lot of the conversation centers on this idea of can you separate the artist from his music? There are fans out there who have very emotional, sentimental connections to R. Kelly hits, like "I Believe I Can Fly" or "Step In The Name Of Love." And they're trying to hold on to that in the face of these horrific allegations.

But there are - the docuseries makes a very potent case that R. Kelly has used the wealth from these hits to fuel this system that he's created in his life where he has cut off women from their families. He has groomed young women for sexual interactions and that he's also, you know, denied them food and things like that. So this is a really sort of emotional and turbulent conversation that's playing out in social media, and it's been fascinating to see it.

GREENE: I mean, these accusations have been out there, right? But it was television that has really caused a lot of, I mean, the investigating, the outcry. Why?

DEGGANS: Well, dream hampton, the executive producer of the series, talked to me. I interviewed her, and she talked about how, for some people, seeing it on television makes a much bigger difference. Journalists have covered these allegations for many, many years. There's been a lot of disclosures about this. And the women featured in the documentary - all of them have made their allegations in public before. But this docuseries brings together all of their stories in one potent six-part series. And you just see story after story after story, and it really makes a difference seeing them all together.

We're also in this cultural moment, thanks to the #MeToo movement, where we're looking back at past allegations made against people like Kevin Spacey, Louis C.K., Bill Cosby, Kevin Hart and re-evaluating them in the light of how we feel about believing women when they step forward and talk about being abused. And I think R. Kelly is in the center of that kind of attitude now.

GREENE: And there really is a racial dynamic to many of these conversations, it sounds like.

DEGGANS: Yeah. I mean, this is about black women being believed. And Chance the Rapper did a very - did an interview where he talked about how one reason why he may have not considered these allegations and worked with R. Kelly. He regretted working with him, and he feels like he may have ignored the allegations of black women. And he's challenging himself to do better and his fans to do better.

GREENE: NPR's Eric Deggans. Thanks, Eric. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.