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Black Women, #MeToo & 'Surviving R. Kelly'

Demonstrators gather near the Chicago studio of singer R. Kelly to call for a boycott of his music after allegations of sexual abuse against young girls were raised on the highly-rated Lifetime mini-series "Surviving R. Kelly."
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Demonstrators gather near the Chicago studio of singer R. Kelly to call for a boycott of his music after allegations of sexual abuse against young girls were raised on the highly-rated Lifetime mini-series "Surviving R. Kelly."

After the release of the Lifetime documentary “Surviving R.Kelly,” prosecutors in Atlanta and Chicago are looking for more information to potentially press criminal charges against the singer.

Kelly is accused of physically and emotionally abusing women, including teenagers, as well as maintaining “an abusive cult,” according to BuzzFeed’s Jim DeRogatis. Kelly denies the allegations, which date back to 1994.

Several women who said they were a part of Kelly’s entourage spoke to The Washington Post. They were mostly aspiring recording artists and models, “who believed he could launch their careers.”

While the aspiring artists believed they were going to be connected with industry players, Kelly, in reality, isolated them from even studio hands.

He expected them to follow his rules, which were told to The Post by multiple women who lived with Kelly. The live-in girlfriends refer to him as “Daddy.” They must ditch social media, hand over cellphones and cut off families and friends. They are told to avoid looking at other men — even a hotel employee delivering room service. They must text either Kelly or an assistant if they want to leave their rooms or exit one of the black Mercedes cargo vans he travels in. (Kelly is terrified of flying.) When he’s in the studio, these rules have left Kelly’s women stuck in backrooms, stranded for hours, hungry and forced to urinate into cups.

One of the most dramatic parts of the documentary was when Michelle Kramer was able to remove her daughter, Dominique, from Kelly’s entourage. The mother claimed that she had to get Kelly’s permission to speak with her daughter.

Michelle Kramer spoke to Rolling Stone’s Elisabeth Gardner-Paul this week.

So we see you get to the hotel and tell the manager that you are there to surprise your daughter on Mother’s Day. When she declines to come down to accept a package, he walks you up to her room. What it was like to see her when you opened up that door?

I was very — overjoyed. I was happy. I can’t even describe it. I can’t even get the words together. I hadn’t seen her in three years, and she was so scared because she was scared that if he found out… She was like, “What you doing here?” “I came to see you. I just want to have lunch with you.” My intention was not to take her. I can’t take a grown woman; she grown, she 26. So I don’t want her to hate me; I just wanted to see her. She said, “I asked God if it’s time for me to leave here, please give me a sign.” And I showed up at the hotel, so she knew it was time to go then.

There’s now a movement called #MuteRKelly that encourages Kelly’s record label to drop him. Already, some of his collaborators have apologized for working with Kelly. Lady Gaga pulled a song the two recorded together from streaming services.

But how successful will these efforts be? #MuteRKelly, the documentary, and the current debate comes years after allegations against Kelly first surfaced. In the past, the singer’s closest allies have closed ranks to protect him. This was on display after a sex tape of Kelly with a minor made news in 2002. The Washington Post investigated the infrastructure around Kelly that allowed the alleged abuse to continue. The Post spoke to a former executive at Jive, Kelly’s former record label.

Larry Khan, who was then a Jive senior vice president for marketing, said he had no problem working with Kelly even after seeing a clip of the singer’s sex tape. Khan, now with Interscope Records, questioned whether it’s a record company’s duty to deal with a performer’s offstage behavior, referencing stars such as Jerry Lee Lewis and Chuck Berry, who also consorted with young girls.

In 2013, DeRogatis — who has reported on Kelly for years — told rock critic Jessica Hopper that in the course of reporting about Kelly, he learned “nobody matters less to our society than young black women. Nobody.”

How will the #MeToo movement intersect with #MuteRKelly? How was his alleged abuse allowed to continue for so long, and why did it take this documentary for prosecutors to begin to look into his case?

Produced by Jonquilyn Hill. Text by Gabrielle Healy.


Natalie Moore, South Side reporter, WBEZ; @natalieymoore

Hannah Giorgis, Culture writer, The Atlantic; @ethiopienne

Salamishah Tillet, President, A Long Way Home; professor, Rutgers University; @salamishah

Joy Harden Bradford, Psychologist; founder, Therapy for Black Girls; @hellodrjoy

For more, visit https://the1a.org.

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