Surviving R. Kelly is a six-part Lifetime documentary detailing sexual abuse allegations against singer R. Kelly. It aired over three nights, from January 3 to January 5, 2019.
Filmmaker and music critic dream hampton served as executive producer and 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.
1 “The Pied Piper of R&B”
2 “Hiding in Plain Sight”
3 “Sex Tape Scandal”
4 “The People vs. R. Kelly”
5 “All the Missing Girls”
6 “Black Girls Matter”
A documentary series focused on R. Kelly’s history of alleged sexual 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.”
The National Sexual Assault Hotline in the United States, operated by the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), experienced a 27% increase in calls during the airing of the documentary.
The review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reported a 95% approval rating with an average rating of 9.38/10 based on 19 reviews. The website’s consensus reads, “By unearthing previously suppressed histories, Surviving R. Kelly exposes the dangers of enabling predatory behavior and gives necessary voice to its survivors.” Metacritic, which uses a weighted average, assigned a score of 85 out of 100 based on 8 critics, indicating “universal acclaim.”
Following the documentary, the office of Cook County, Illinois, State’s Attorney Kim Foxx said on January 10, 2019, that it had received numerous new calls alleging sexual abuse by R. Kelly and that it was investigating the claims. Lady Gaga also released a statement saying she regretted working with R. Kelly on their 2013 duet “Do What U Want” and said she was working on removing it from online streaming services. “I stand behind these women 1000%, believe them, know they are suffering and in pain, and feel strongly that their voices should be heard and taken seriously,” she wrote in a statement. “I think it’s clear how explicitly twisted my thinking was at the time…If I could go back and have a talk with my younger self I’d tell her to go through the therapy I have since then.”
Conversely to the series’ scathing portrayal of Kelly, Nielsen SoundScan has reported that after the initial airing of the series, Kelly’s music saw a two-fold increase in streaming popularity.
The January 3 premiere episode was Lifetime’s highest-rated program in more than two years, with 1.9 million total viewers.