Why did it take so long for people to take the R. Kelly controversies seriously?
By B. del Rio
January 11, 2019 at 6:45 pm

Last year, the #MeToo movement effectively took down movie mogul Harvey Weinstein. This year, it seems, that crown of dishonor is set for touted King of R&B R. Kelly. But while Weinstein’s fall from grace seemed somewhat instantaneous, R. Kelly proves to be a different case. The fight to discredit the artist actually started a long time ago. Sexual assault allegations against him go way back, as far as 1970. It was reported that he wedded Aliyah while she was still underage, and he even went to court for child pornography. Surprise, surprise, he was acquitted. And again, to the shock of no one, the man continued with his reputation more or less intact. Though the controversy continued to follow him, he still kept his position as a man in power in the music industry. Heck, he even released a song that’s basically a smug non-apology in response to the accusations.

But it looks like his luck has finally run out. Lifetime’s documentary, Surviving R. Kelly might just do the job. The six-part series shows women “emerging from the shadows and uniting their voices to share their stories.” It features over 50 interview including accusers, like his ex-wife Andrea Kelly, and ex-girlfriend Kitti Jones, joined by a few high profile celebrities like John Legend, and Chance the Rapper.

Majority of the reactions show viewers are appalled, and fellow artists are outraged. Lady Gaga, who initially refused to be part of the documentary, now issued an apology. Other celebrities who have also spoken up are Jada Pinkett-Smith, Ne-Yo, Cara Delevingne, and rapper Meek Mills, who tweeted, “It don’t take a rocket scientist to see what was going on.” He wrote further that the mystery was why it took this long for people to realize that.

It really is a puzzle. Aside from the highly-publicized case R. Kelly was caught in, there had been other stories published which detailed the stories of his victims. Lifetime isn’t the first to make a documentary regarding the scandals surrounding the artist either. BBC has had a similar documentary years ago, titled R Kelly: Sex, Girls & Videotapes.

So why did it take this long?

I think the main difference is in the victims and society’s prejudice towards them. Harvey Weinstein preyed on actresses who, thankfully, have become empowered enough over time to make them finally call out the man in power. Furthermore, they have platforms. During the peak of the movement, for instance, every red carpet event became a chance for victims to speak out, and for A-listers to show their support. These were distinguished women, and thus “believable.”

In the case of R. Kelly, he preyed on underage black girls. Not only that, but his alleged abuse was more systematic. More than sexual, there was mental and physical abuse involved. Meaning, he groomed his victims. He reportedly kept them with him and transformed them into his “pets.” Even now, some of his alleged victims deny the allegations in its face.

What’s disturbing is, he reportedly gets even more popular when his cases are brought up, contrary to what happened to Weinstein. When Surviving R. Kelly came out, his songs shot up the charts (including “Do What U Want,” his collaboration with Lady Gaga) and even sold millions more. He was also seen being well-received at a gig.

And for those who spoke out, Chance The Rapper might have the answered it best in his admission: “I didn’t value the accusers’ stories, like, because they were black women.”  In essence, he pointed out a sad truth: Black women’s voices are valued less than their white counterpart. Moreover, they didn’t have as much power in society as the stars that accused Weinstein had. Even R. Kelly’s ex-wife, Andrea had been speaking out about the abuse long before Surviving R. Kelly but it did not blow up the way it did these days. I think it’s important to point out that unlike Lifetime, BBC’s documentary focused merely on the victims and their families. There were no celebrity appearances. Surviving R. Kelly was smart to include the voice of influential celebrities—male celebrities, even—to make people finally take the issue seriously.

Now, there had been reports that R Kelly is under criminal investigations because of the documentary. It took the authorities long enough. Still, it’s a welcome development. Hopefully this time, R. Kelly will get the sentence he deserves.

Art by Marian Hukom

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Related stories:
Lady Gaga speaks up about working with R. Kelly
R. Kelly is definitely not sorry about preying on underage girls
R. Kelly is allegedly holding women against their will in a “sex cult”
How #MeToo unites women beyond race and class for an overdue cause

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