The decades-overdue downfall of R. Kelly seems like a plot ripped straight out of a Lifetime particular, however due to Surviving R. Kelly, it’s the truth presently staring the Pied Piper of R&B within the face. Earlier this month, Lifetime aired the bombshell six-part sequence — a painstakingly detailed rehashing of over 25 years of alleged sexual abuse committed by Kelly — that includes the accounts of a number of girls who say he violated them once they had been underage. The girls’s tales are advised in their very own phrases, alongside images from the eras these alleged crimes occurred, and corroborated by interviews with witnesses. Despite his persistent denial of their costs, it seems for the primary time in his profession, time may lastly be up for R. Kelly. So how did Lifetime get to be the one to probably undo him? The reply is an enterprise that took over a yr to develop.
In July 2017, longtime Kelly beat reporter Jim DeRogatis revealed an explosive piece for BuzzFeed alleging that Kelly has for years been holding women hostage as part of a “sex cult.” The report got here 16 years after DeRogatis first broke the story that Kelly had carried out lewd sexual acts on a toddler on tape, however within the trial that adopted, Kelly was acquitted as a result of the jury couldn’t agree on the id of the lady within the tape, permitting his alleged misconduct to fade from public reminiscence. When new costs surfaced in DeRogatis’s 2017 report, Kreativ Inc./Bunim-Murray movie producers Jesse Daniels and Tamra Simmons noticed a pivotal opening to revisit Kelly’s historical past. “These tales had been so highly effective, however on the similar time, they’re not being held in the identical method as a few of the different tales that had been being reported on about different individuals,” Daniels advised Vulture, including that the #MeToo motion later within the yr heightened that discrepancy. In their very own unbiased analysis within the months that adopted, Daniels and Simmons received the mother and father of 1 alleged sufferer, Jocelyn Savage, onboard and commenced “constructing belief” with a community of different survivors keen to cooperate for a possible documentary.
At that time, the seeds for the mission had been in place: Three survivors, together with Jerhonda Pace, and two units of fogeys signed on to take part. Daniels and Simmons started procuring the concept in late 2017, taking it to a number of networks, together with all the most important black-audience-targeted channels, and obtained a mixture of curiosity and hesitation. “This is a subject coping with a high-profile movie star and that definitely made some individuals extra nervous than others,” Daniels says, declining to say any networks by title. Journalist and filmmaker Dream Hampton, who grew to become an government producer for the doc after the Lifetime pickup, added, “I’m positive BET may’ve executed it one million instances in the event that they needed to. Instead, they booked him on their award reveals.” The fast distinction with Lifetime, Daniels recollects, was it “felt like they had been all-in from the start.” “We didn’t look again after that,” he says.
Long identified for telling true-crime stories focused on women’s survival — nevertheless embellished for the display screen — Lifetime felt the movie aligned with its model. But with the documentary missing newsiness, the community needed to provide you with an angle to draw viewership. “The dialog then grew to become, How do you make the strongest platform doable for these girls?” Lifetime exec Brie Bryant says. “The concept was to make it a timeline doc and to begin as early as doable in order that we may factually lay out what occurred and the way it occurred.” Daniels agreed: “In order to imagine what’s occurring now, we needed to set up patterns that date again 30 years.”
In May 2018, Lifetime initially ordered the movie as a 90-minute documentary, and Daniels introduced on Hampton to conduct the on-camera interviews with survivors. But because the interviewee pool ballooned previous 50 individuals — and the filmmakers finally had six hours of edited footage after filming resulted in December — a six-part docuseries made probably the most sense. Because its closing episodes repurpose a few of DeRogatis’s reporting and converse to his sources, Bunim-Murray approached him to be concerned. However, DeRogatis declined on account of inventive variations and his personal separate R. Kelly doc within the works with BuzzFeed. “I had no confidence the group that introduced us the Real World and Keeping Up With the Kardashians would do journalism,” he advised Vulture. “But I’ve huge respect for Dream Hampton. Everything that was good about that sequence was due to her.”
But earlier than she signed on, Hampton was equally skeptical of Bunim-Murray and Lifetime. “I didn’t need to get entangled,” she advised Vulture. “I knew Bunim-Murray produced the Real World and the factor in regards to the sisters [Keeping Up With the Kardashians], however I’d by no means watched. And Lifetime, I had watched them fictionalize Aaliyah’s story. I stated, ‘I’m not excited by doing a little re-creation of R. Kelly.’” When Bunim-Murray assured her that it’d be a documentary, not a scripted biopic, and an opportunity to do proper by the black girls Kelly allegedly harmed, Hampton modified her tune: “The truth is, I didn’t pitch this. And there wasn’t some buffet of individuals attempting to do that story about black ladies.” (That Hampton had profiled R. Kelly in 2000, months earlier than DeRogatis’s reporting on his alleged intercourse crimes broke, additionally nonetheless haunted her. “I didn’t open Jeffrey Dahmer’s fridge,” she says.)
The interview course of proved to be an uphill battle. Only two musicians, John Legend and Stephanie “Sparkle” Edwards, agreed to talk on digicam with Hampton about Kelly. And simply as as his label, RCA, has remained tight-lipped to the media on all issues R. Kelly, Hampton didn’t get far with label execs both. She recollects Barry Weiss, the previous head of RCA, emailing her for an inventory of the survivors being interviewed for the mission, “like he was gonna one way or the other scope our manufacturing” reasonably than comply with face the digicam himself. Hampton additionally spoke to somebody at RCA who’d labored carefully with him for twenty years, however “simply couldn’t carry herself to come back on digicam.”
The stakes concerned with interviewing the survivors proved even larger. Though Surviving R. Kelly shares the tales of a number of girls who’d beforehand spoken out, Daniels and Simmons say they talked to new accusers who weren’t prepared to come back ahead on digicam and so weren’t included within the closing documentary. From a authorized stance, the vetting course of for many who did consent to look needed to be exhaustive. “I feel I’ve a regulation diploma now,” Simmons says. Meanwhile, Bunim-Murray attorneys had been current within the room throughout all of Hampton’s interviews with the alleged victims. “I used to be in a position to bear witness, however even the questions I needed to ask felt extra like a deposition,” she says. “Because we needed to anticipate at any second R. Kelly suing us.” Lifetime reps inform Vulture that no lawsuit has but been filed, and the community and producers haven’t heard from Kelly, although he has allegedly retaliated against some of the women within the doc.
A month earlier than the movie’s premiere, a New York City screening did come to a startling halt when an nameless name a few gun risk compelled the theater to be evacuated. Several of the survivors had been in attendance. “It was heartbreaking to have a look at these survivors’ faces and see and listen to that they felt silenced once more,” Bryant says. The risk has since been traced again to a Kelly affiliate. But Bryant believes that plan to maintain the documentary from the general public solely drummed up curiosity about what somebody so badly needed to cover. Since the doc’s premiere, Lifetime says greater than 24 million individuals have tuned in, with a “larger than typical” proportion of them being African-American. Bryant says of that scores surge, “It implies that tales like this could really work and numerous content material can really work. And the extra those who present up the way in which that they did right this moment opens up doorways, not simply at Lifetime however at different networks.”
As a direct results of Surviving R. Kelly, not less than three states, together with Georgia, Illinois, and New York, are reportedly building criminal cases against Kelly. Meanwhile, artists like Lady Gaga and Chance the Rapper have damaged their silence to say that they had been fallacious to work with Kelly regardless of understanding what they knew about his abuse, and have scrubbed their collaborations from streaming providers. But Bryant says Lifetime has not but made any selections on a follow-up particular about these new developments. She and the producers as a substitute intend on carefully monitoring the continued fallout. “The conversations which are occurring are nearly greater than the doc,” Daniels says.