‘Surviving R. Kelly’ is resonating more because of #MeToo
There was a moment at a press conference this week when Faith Rodgers was asked what she’d want to say to R. Kelly if he was watching.
“Time’s up,” Rodgers said, without missing a beat.
Rodgers filed a lawsuit against Kelly last year, claiming he assaulted her and gave her a sexually transmitted disease. Kelly denies the allegations.
More than a soundbite, her words were a testament as to why — after decades of allegations and whisperings about Kelly — people now seem to be listening to the women who say the singer abused them.
Rodgers tells her story in the Lifetime docu-series “Surviving R. Kelly,” which outlines the history of sexual misconduct allegations against Kelly.
The series has sparked new outrage against the singer and calls for him to face justice.
Kelly was acquitted in 2008 for charges connected to alleged child pornography after a tape surfaced that prosecutors said showed him having sex with a then 14-year-old girl.
For years Kelly’s fans had heard rumors — and even made jokes — about him having a “thing” for young girls. What’s changed? The entertainment industry is now viewed through the lens of the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements, making accusations like this harder to dismiss.
A bigger platform
So hard to ignore that Kelly — who has often used his music to sell and glorify sex — released a 19-minute song titled “I Admit” to address his critics over the summer.
Kelly acknowledged he’d “made some mistakes” and has “imperfect ways” in the song.
The singer may never have felt the need to even address the allegations against him were it not for the momentum that #MeToo and Time’s Up had started prior to “Surviving R. Kelly.”
The #MeToo movement that has given the women who say that they were abused by Kelly a bigger platform was started by Tarana Burke.
Burke appeared in “Surviving R. Kelly” and said in the series that stories about Kelly’s alleged “sex cult” in which he was holding a group of adult women against their will “falls right into this continuum of stories that have come out around sexual misconduct, sexual harassment in mainstream industries.”
“In September  we have the huge Harvey Weinstein articles, which propelled this whole [#MeToo] movement forward and R. Kelly doesn’t get included in that,” Burke said in “Surviving R. Kelly.” “Jerhonda Pace [who alleges she was involved with Kelly when she was 16 and appeared in the docuseries] broke her [non-discosure agreement] with R. Kelly and I wanted to shine light on that and continue to keep the conversation about R. Kelly and the accusations against him in the public eye.”
Kelly has denied Pace’s allegations and accounts that he is holding women against their will.
But Burke isn’t the only activist who has banded behind Kelly’s alleged victims.
Last year, the Women of Color group within Time’s Up added their voices to the campaign to #MuteRKelly, a social media effort calling for a boycott of the singer’s music.
“The scars of history make certain that we are not interested in persecuting anyone without just cause,” a letter from the group stated. “With that said, we demand appropriate investigations and inquiries into the allegations of R. Kelly’s abuse made by women of color and their families for over two decades now.”
Kelly’s manager at the time issued a statement in response to the Time’s Up letter and #MuteRKelly campaign.
“R. Kelly supports the pro-women goals of the Time’s Up movement,” the statement read in part. “We understand criticizing a famous artist is a good way to draw attention to those goals — and in this case, it is unjust and off-target.”
‘No one cared because we were black girls’
The increased attention probably feels a long time coming for both the alleged victims and those who have sympathized with them.
“People will say, well, why didn’t anyone notice?,” writer and co-creator of HoodFeminism Mikki Kendall said in “Surviving R. Kelly.” “The answer is that we all noticed. No one cared because we were black girls.”
The view that racial prejudice may have contributed to why these women’s accounts were largely ignored is not far-fetched.
Up until “Surviving R. Kelly,” the women who have come forward in the #MeToo movement who have received the most attention have not been women and girls of color.
And the black community itself has remained divided, with Kelly receiving plenty of support from those who say he is being railroaded.
Last week, as protesters demonstrated outside of a Chicago recording studio that has been a base for Kelly, the singer partied before a cheering crowd in celebration of his birthday at a club in the same city.
“I don’t give a f*** what’s going on tonight. …” he told the clubgoers.
A defiant artist
Kelly has been consistently defiant.
Decades ago he dubbed himself “the Pied Piper of R&B,” though he told GQ magazine in 2016 that he had no idea the Pied Piper was a character who led children away using music.
“I started calling myself the Pied Piper when I started using the flute sound in my music,” he told the publication.
Last May, a Facebook Live video surfaced of Kelly saying it was “too late” for allegations to end his career.
“I got a million motherf*****s hatin’ me, or 40 billion motherf*****s lovin’ me, you know what I’m sayin’?,” Kelly said in the video.
‘Justice above adoration’
Kelly could now be under investigation in both Georgia and Illinois.
“R. Kelly should have been convicted and in jail years ago. The evidence has been there,” minister, author and actor Jared Sawyer Jr. tweeted. “But somehow his ‘celebrity’ makes his actions apologetic. When are we going to put justice above adoration of ‘the famed’?”
Kelly’s attorney, Steve Greenberg, has insisted his client “has done nothing wrong” and called “Surviving R. Kelly” a “hit piece.”
Yet the calls for Kelly to be held accountable are only growing louder.