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R. Kelly’s invite to ‘The Color Purple’ is inexcusable

First published May 6, 2007: When columnist Mary Mitchell arrived at the Chicago premier of “The Color Purple,” she didn’t expect to see R. Kelly, then charged with 14 counts of child pornography charges. Sure enough, it was him.

Felicia P. Fields (left), who portrayed Sofia in the Broadway musical “The Color Purple,” applauds Oprah Winfrey, who played Sofia in the movie version, during a curtain call after the Chicago premiere on May 3, 2007. Stu James (center) played Harpo. | AP
Felicia P. Fields (left), who portrayed Sofia in the Broadway musical “The Color Purple,” applauds Oprah Winfrey, who played Sofia in the movie version, during a curtain call after the Chicago premiere on May 3, 2007. This is not the original photograph that accompanied this story.
AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast

This article originally appeared as written in the May 6, 2007 edition of the Chicago Sun-Times.

I knew it couldn’t be R. Kelly on the red carpet at the premiere of Oprah Winfrey’s “The Color Purple” on Thursday night.

Sure enough. It was him!

Kelly is facing 14 counts of child pornography stemming from a videotape allegedly showing him having sex with a 14-year old girl.

But it looks like the popular R&B star — who croons inspirational ballads one minute and raunchy lyrics the next — has a fairy godmother. Although indicted in 2002, his trial has been repeatedly delayed. Now the judge sitting for the case is also presiding over the Brown’s Chicken trial, and Kelly’s lawyer, Ed Genson, is representing former Chicago Sun-Times owner Conrad Black, on trial for allegedly pilfering millions from stockholders.

On Thursday night, Kelly told reporters stationed outside the Cadillac Palace that he saw “The Color Purple” seven times in New York. He was out and about because he has just finished an album, Kelly said.

“I figured this is the time to come out and enjoy myself. When I got invited, I thought there’s no better way to do that,” Kelly told reporters.

“He was invited. He was definitely there,” said an employee with Margie Korshak, the public relations firm that handled the invites. The employee didn’t know who extended the invitation and seemed surprised I inquired.

It has been more than four years since copies of the pornographic video flooded the streets, and a lot of people have forgotten Kelly is at the center of a case that involves videotaped sex acts with a minor.

Frankly, an invitation to the press review of “The Color Purple” was the hottest ticket in town.

In the newsroom, reporters started asking about tickets at the beginning of the week. An invite would give them a chance to mix work and pleasure, of course.

“You’re going, aren’t you?” a colleague asked.

She was shocked to learn I hadn’t gotten an invite, either.

But I have my own fairy godmother. That same day, I ran into a big-hearted A-Lister who had two extra theater tickets. Unfortunately, by then there was no way I could attend the event. Still, I stopped by the Cadillac Palace Theatre to watch as celebrities made their way down the red carpet.

The area hummed with anticipation.

Thanks to Jonathan Jackson (he pulled me past security), I even got a chance to experience what it feels like to have dozens of flashing cameras aimed at you.

That’s how I happened to see Kelly make his entrance. No one booed.

Despite the unsavory allegations hanging over his head, Kelly has managed to keep his superstar status. Kelly is a multiple-Grammy winner, and since his indictment, he has been nominated for numerous civic and industry awards, including the coveted NAACP Image Award.

Shortly after Oprah took her triumphant stroll, Kelly strutted down the red carpet, just like Mayor Daley and his wife, Maggie, had done earlier.

The irony is jarring.

Oprah’s production is based on a horrible tale of the sexual abuse that was heaped on a young girl in the rural South. Besides being raped by a man she believed to be her father, Celie was given to a mean-spirited older man as his wife, and throughout the relationship, she was used as both a sexual object and a workhorse.

Alice Walker, who won a Pulitzer Prize for her fiction, withstood being called a black male-basher to bring us this book. In the 20-plus years since its publishing, it remains a healing balm for women who have witnessed, endured, survived and ultimately thrived, despite physical and emotional abuse by cruel men.

To witness Kelly being treated as an honored guest at the premier of “The Color Purple” sickened me. It was a slap in the face of every woman who has gone through such abuse.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see “The Color Purple” Thursday night.

I gave one of the free tickets to my colleague. The other, I passed along to a woman who was standing outside watching the spectacle from a distance.