A three-night event premieres beginning January 2 at 9pm on Lifetime.
Release date: January 2, 2020 at 9pm
Surviving R. Kelly is a Lifetime documentary detailing s–ual abuse allegations against American singer Robert “R.” Kelly (which he has denied). It aired over three nights, from January 3 to January 5, 2019. Filmmaker and music critic Dream Hampton served as executive producer together with Joel Karsberg, Jesse Daniels and Tamra Simmons. Musicians Chance the Rapper, John Legend and Stephanie “Sparkle” Edwards appeared in the documentary. Its premiere episode on January 3, 2019, was Lifetime’s highest-rated program in more than two years, with 1.9 million total viewers. It received critical acclaim, with a 95% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The documentary also spurred several musicians who previously collaborated with Kelly on projects, including Lady Gaga and Ciara, to condemn Kelly and remove their works with him from streaming services.
Shortly after the docuseries aired, Kelly’s record label dissolved its working relationship with him. In February 2019, Kelly was formally charged with 10 counts of aggravated criminal s–ual abuse. On December 11, 2019, it was announced that the second season titled Surviving R. Kelly Part II: The Reckoning will premiere on January 2, 2020.
A documentary series focused on R. Kelly’s history of alleged s–ual abuse was green lit by Lifetime in May 2018. “We’ve been working for over a year to bring forth the stories of these women,” executive producer Joel Karsberg told The Hollywood Reporter. “We are proud to team with Lifetime to shed light on these stories as well as an industry that has looked the other way for so many years.”
Hampton was invited onto the project by an executive at Bunim/Murray Productions. “That executive, Jesse Daniels, and Tamara Simmons, another co-EP on this project, have been holding these relationships with some of his survivors for months before I came on board,” Hampton said in an interview with NPR. “I remember talking to them early on, kind of figuring out if we were going to work together…Having been adjacent in some ways to the music industry, when there was one, I knew that it took dozens, if not hundreds of people, for R. Kelly to operate as long as he has in the way that he has.”
Hampton said that Simmons would call prospective interviewees late into the night. “She was handling and had the relationships with, not just the women and girls who survived R. Kelly, but also the families,” Hampton said. “We had three families who were trying to get their daughters back. So she in particular, she and Jesse, had been caring for those relationships. And then I came on as showrunner and made it a show.”
Many musicians who worked with R. Kelly refused to participate in the series. “When it comes to celebrities, it was incredibly difficult to get people who had collaborated (artistically) with Kelly to come forward,” Hampton said. “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.”
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