On Thursday, January 4th, Lifetime aired the first two episodes of its six-part docuseries Surviving R. Kelly. It was a jarring experience. Surviving R. Kelly features interviews with over 50 people, many women who detail R. Kelly’s alleged long history of sexual, physical, and mental abuse.
The first two hours of the documentary focused on the singer’s early years: his tough (and at times tragic) upbringing and his meteoric rise to superstardom in the ’90s. The documentary also details Kelly’s predatory ways, starting with his marriage to a 15-year-old Aaliyah in 1994. (That marriage was later annulled in 1995.)
It was a heavy, often uncomfortable watch. But also a necessary one. And it’s only the beginning. There are four more installments of the doucseries:
Episodes 3 & 4 are about his trial and the systemic ways the criminal (in)justice system fails and re-traumatizes victims. Episodes 5 & 6 are about rightnow and are to me, the most important. #SurvivingRKelly
— dream hampton (@dreamhampton) January 4, 2019
Here are the four most revelatory takeaways from the first two hours of Surviving R. Kelly.
New Details about his relationship with Aaliyah
One of the most interesting (and at time horrifying) interview subjects to watch was Demetrius Smith, a tour manager and personal assistant of Kelly’s for many years. Smith seemed to play the role of enabler, and he talked frankly about some of the things he did. In the documentary, Smith detailed how he forged the documents so Kelly and Aaliyah could get married.
I’m not proud of that. I had papers forged for them because Aaliyah was underage. [We] got the marriage license and we were in a hotel in Maywood, Illinois.
Smith goes on to say that “Aaliyah looked worried, scared… I wanted so much to grab Aaliyah and talk to her. I wanted so much to talk to her because she gave me a look like she wanted me to talk to her…I feel like I failed them, both of them.”
Smith also said at one point, R. Kelly was worried that a 15-year-old Aaliyah was pregnant.
Jovante Cunningham, who was a backup singer that was around during those years, also revealed details about Kelly and Aaliyah’s relationship. At one point, Jovante said she caught R. Kelly having sex with a teenage Aaliyah in a tour bus.
Aaliyah’s mother, Diane Haughton, has strongly denied this claim.
ATT: 🚨#TeamAaliyah #Aaliyah ‘s Mom , Diane has made a statement in regards to the lies from the #Lifetime #RKelly documentary coming out. PLEASE RT to make this go viral! We can’t let @lifetimetv lie on @AaliyahHaughton this way! If you need the quote tweet me. Let’s do this! ✊ pic.twitter.com/0sOnGV0g6q
— Aaliyah For MAC (@AaliyahForMac) January 2, 2019
R. Kelly was telling us everything through his music
Surviving R. Kelly does a good job explaining that the singer wasn’t discreet about his ways. Aaliyah’s “Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number,” which was written by Kelly, was a song about a young girl trying to have a relationship with an older man. And for years Kelly called himself the “Pied Piper of R&B.” (Pied Piper was a character who lured children with a flute.)
I banned Kelly’s music from my home, car, family cookout, etc 15 yrs ago. I read the Aaliyah story & heard him call himself the Pied Piper of R&B. I made my kids read the story of the PP. I told them that Kelly was bragging that he could steal our kids. #SurvivingRKelly
— Sherrilyn Ifill (@Sifill_LDF) January 4, 2019
The truly revelatory example, though, came when survivor Lizzette Martinez revealed that Michael Jackson’s “You Are Not Alone,” a song Kelly wrote, was about her. Martinez claims that R. Kelly impregnated her when she was still in high school. Martinez then had a miscarriage. Martinez said Kelly wrote “You Are Not Alone,” and dedicated the song to her and the experience she went through.
Michael Jackson’s “You Are Not Alone,” written by R. Kelly was inspired by the miscarriage of an underage girl he impregnated.
Will never hear this song the same way again. #SurvivingRKelly
— Ernest Owens (@MrErnestOwens) January 4, 2019
R. Kelly’s disturbing marriage to Andrea Kelly
For years, Andrea Kelly has told stories about Kelly’s abusive tendencies. In this documentary, she details how controlling the singer was. One of the most disturbing stories she tells is how he married her. R. Kelly set up a secret wedding for her, without her input or knowledge. The marriage was so secret that Kelly’s brothers or any of the other girls he was having relations with did not know about the wedding.
Listening to Andrea Kelly talk about the abuse she suffered while married to R. Kelly is breaking my heart. I’m so thankful to her for sharing her story, shame can keep us silent. -bcd #SurvivingRKelly
— ColorOfChange.org (@ColorOfChange) January 4, 2019
The infrastructure was strong
What becomes apparent while watching the documentary is how much everyone knew and saw. And how no one did anything. Kelly would hang around high schools and malls where his entourage would give out his numbers to young girls. He would have sex with underage girls in front of friends and during recording sessions. He would throw parties where clearly underaged girls were around and sometimes in the nude.
This was no secret to anyone.
And this is why we shout from the mountain tops…
MEN ARE TRASH
Because of Robert Kelly, his former tour manager Demetrius Smith, his brother Bruce Kelly, the retired police officers who saw him at the HS picking up girls, his boys who watched his assault… #SurvivngRKelly
— Aya M. Waller-Bey, MPhil (@Aya__Marie) January 4, 2019
Most disturbing are the comments from Demetrius Smith, who for years was basically an accessory; Kelly’s brother Bruce, who seems try and justify Kelly’s attraction to young girls as a “preference;” and music producer Craig Williams, who saw a lot and just looked another way.
— Sufiya Abdur-Rahman (@MrsAbolitionist) January 4, 2019
The next two episodes of Surviving R. Kelly air tonight (January 4th) at 9PM on Lifetime.