A new year, a new round of damning accusations against disgraced R&B superstar R. Kelly, courtesy of Lifetime TV.
“Surviving R. Kelly Part II: The Reckoning” premieres Thursday with a fresh round of bombshell interviews alleging that the singer sexually abused multiple minors over a three-decade period — and that he’s currently preying upon young black women despite the increased scrutiny. Reports of Kelly presiding over a cult-like group of women are addressed by self-identified survivor Dominique Gardner, who lived with Kelly until March 2019.
Her testimony is one of many stunning, emotional moments that make Lifetime’s new three-night, six-hour limited series a powerful and necessary second act to 2019’s explosive “Surviving R. Kelly.”
The original docuseries made the case that Kelly, 52, used his fame over three decades to target underage girls and young women, operating in plain sight while authorities and the public turned a blind eye. In the TV show, his alleged victims stepped forward — some for the first time — with claims of statutory rape, imprisonment and more in heart-wrenching detail.
Thanks largely to that series, a #MuteRKelly movement ensued; he was dropped by his record label and was subsequently charged with 10 counts of aggravated sexual abuse. Kelly is out on bail and denies all charges.
“The Reckoning” furthers the case against the “I Believe I Can Fly” singer with fresh information, much of it culled over the last year as the fallout from the previous production caused more survivors, parents, witnesses and former enablers to come forward. Assembled, their stories illustrate how a culture obsessed with celebrity, and a music industry built around objectifying young women, emboldened the multi-platinum artist while it failed dozens of young, powerless women.
Tiffany Hawkins was 15 when she became involved with Kelly in the 1990s. She eventually sang backup for another one of his pursuits, the late singer Aaliyah, who was 15 when she used forged documents to marry the 27-year-old Kelly. “I was the first girl [who came forward],” says Hawkins in the docuseries. “Nobody believed me. And it continued to happen, again and again and again.”
The rise of #MeToo played a major role in breaking the protective culture surrounding Kelly, and the movement’s founder, Tarana Burke, is interviewed throughout both iterations of the series. #MeToo broke the ice for the 2019 documentary and Kelly’s disastrous interview with CBS News’ Gayle King in March. The embattled singer jumped out of his chair, crying and yelling into the camera, insisting he was being unfairly targeted to an unflappable King.
Kelly has declined to participate in the Lifetime series, and his camp and defenders have dismissed the women in the series as opportunists who have used their platform to bolster their careers.
In “The Reckoning,” those same women explain the price they’ve paid since the original series aired last January. It’s included physical threats from Kelly fans at the mall, alleged blackmail efforts from Kelly’s camp (Faith Rodgers says he released nude photos of her) and anonymous death threats.
The sheer number of women with claims against Kelly is staggering. Frankly, it’s hard to keep count. Bolstering their stories are the Chicago artist’s former staff, managers and studio engineers, music industry moguls like Damon Dash and Kelly’s own brothers, Bruce and Carey Kelly. Reporter Jim DeRogatis, the journalist who doggedly investigated Kelly since the 1990s, provides a road map of the cases and lawsuits, linking them together in what proves to be a disturbing timeline.
A pattern of grooming girls, silencing accusers and controlling women to the point of abuse — some were allegedly kept in his garage, locked for days on end in his tour bus or told when they could eat and use the bathroom — is established through these multiple accounts.
Recent cases are the most haunting. The trauma is fresh when Jerhonda Pace, a young woman who met Kelly at age 15 and lived with him until 2010, describes a suicide pact that she had with the singer. “If anything was to happen to him, like if he was to go to jail [or] if someone was to harm him, I was supposed to kill myself,” she said.
Is it hard to watch? Absolutely. But it’s also riveting and cathartic, especially since Kelly is being prosecuted. “Surviving R. Kelly Part II: The Reckoning” continues to press for justice and give voice to credible accusers and witnesses. As for Kelly? 2020, though just days old, is not shaping up to be his year.