Starting Thursday, the Lifetime network will devote six hours and three consecutive nights to “Surviving R. Kelly,” a powerful, disturbing chronicle of the long-running allegations that the music superstar has sexually and physically abused women and young girls.
Containing more than 50 interviews and covering a time span from 1970 to today, the cable-TV documentary is among the most comprehensive looks ever at the scandal surrounding the man once nicknamed the king of R&B.
It’s a story that deserves a docu-series, according to Detroit author, activist and filmmaker Dream Hampton, executive producer of “Surviving R. Kelly.”
“I felt like it was time to deal with him, for lack of a better word,” says Hampton.
Viewers will learn more about everything from Kelly’s troubled childhood in Chicago to his early success to his secretive relationship with Aaliyah, the late singer-actress from Detroit who was 15 when she wed Kelly, then 27.
Most of all, they will hear accounts from those described by Lifetime as survivors and people from R. Kelly’s inner circle who “are now finally ready to share their full story and shed light on the secret life the public has never seen.”
“Surviving R. Kelly” is part of Lifetime’s pledge to give a voice to women who have been unheard until now and to spread awareness about issues like the abuse and harassment of women.
Hampton spoke to the Detroit Free Press about the docu-series and the courage of the women who have stepped forward to share their stories. Here’s the conversation, edited for length and clarity.
Q. There are appearances in the documentary by famous people like singer John Legend. Was it a difficult process to get celebrities involved or were people ready to step up?
A. When it comes to celebrities, It was incredibly difficult to get people who had collaborated (artistically) with Kelly to come forward. We asked Lady Gaga. We asked Erykah Badu. We asked Celine Dion. We asked Jay-Z. We asked Dave Chappelle. (They’re) people who have been critical of him. That makes John Legend even more of a hero for me.
Q. There’s been much written about the R. Kelly allegations, but do you think a documentary like this could be the biggest step so far in terms of public awareness?
A. The New York Times did a piece that we’re in a post-text world. Even though Jim DeRogatis has done the heavy lifting of being on this story for the past 15, 20 years probably, at this point, I think seeing it is going to be (important). That’s just where we are. No one’s reading, and they’re not getting to articles. If you have Facebook, people just argue about the title of an article in the comments section. As a storyteller, it’s really important to me to make sure we get the most eyes on (the docu-series) as possible. It really is an incredibly important story We have to see what gender violence looks like, what sexual and mental abuse look like, in order to avoid it and know the signs.
Q. Can you talk about the women who’ve come forward for this docu-series? What do they mean to it?
A. They’re everything, these women. We call them survivors. They’re so brave. Their stories are important, and they have every right to share them. Many of them have said they (want) to prevent someone else from falling into (such situations). There are no big paychecks for these women. We can’t pay them to be in a documentary. There are no endorsement deals. This kind of exposure doesn’t lead to some great something. I admire them so much and have all the respect in the world for them.
Q. What would you tell viewers about why they should watch all six hours?
A. I suggest that women in particular watch it with other women. I can’t promise you that there’s not something triggering in every episode because there absolutely is. But you’re also going to see a real resolve, not just in women who are telling their stories, but in parents who are trying to get their kids back. It’s quite a journey. I hope that people do stick with it.
Julie Hinds, Gannett
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