Since the rise of the #MeToo movement, countless accusations against famed musicians, producers and Hollywood royalty have been publicly shared. This movement has given a voice to the victims of sexual violence and harassment who were once silenced and condemned to live in the shadows of their abusers. Yet, in recent weeks, the Lifetime docu-series “Surviving R. Kelly” and Sundance film “Leaving Neverland” have sparked controversy regarding the integrity of the accusations and graphic depiction of said assault.
Lifetime recently premiered a three-night docuseries, “Surviving R. Kelly,” that gives voices to survivors of his sexual, mental and physical abuse that have been largely ignored for years. For decades, R&B singer R. Kelly has dodged allegations of sexual misconduct, and was acquitted by a jury for child pornography charges; however, the groundbreaking Lifetime series unites those in Kelly’s inner circle to reveal the traumatic experiences forced upon young African-American girls, while also giving a voice to his survivors. While this docuseries is nonetheless graphic, it is necessary to give each victim a voice and shine a light on the true monster that the world has come to know as R. Kelly.
“Surviving R. Kelly” examines Kelly’s childhood history, including his own traumatic experiences involving sexual misconduct, while also closely dissecting his musical lyrics that connect to the allegations of his assault. Throughout each episode, numerous families and survivors share their stories of how Kelly traumatically impacted their lives, whether it be the controversy surrounding his marriage to underage music phenomenon Aaliyah, or specifically focusing on Michelle Kramer rescuing her daughter, Dominique Gardner, from Kelly’s sex cult. The series does not censor the victim’s voices or stories and grants them a platform to share their traumatic experiences in hopes of bringing forth justice that was once denied.
Centering around the same controversial topic of sexual assault is the film “Leaving Neverland” that stunned audiences following its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival. The film centers around Michael Jackson’s alleged sexual abuse of minors concerning two young men in his inner circle. Wade Robson and James Safechuck echo each other’s story of the sexual assault that they suffered following the artistic mentorship of Jackson. Both men highlight the sexual predation of Jackson that led to them bring prematurely introduced to kissing, pornography and being survivors of sexual misconduct.
While “Leaving Neverland” received a standing ovation from audience members at the film festival, critics were quick to slash the film as a “public lynching” of Jackson’s legacy. Family and fans from around the world, almost immediately defended Jackson by publicly condemning Robson and Safechuck as liars and calling the film immoral to bring up these accusations following Jackson’s passing.
Both documentaries highlight the disturbing reality and abusive tendencies of Hollywood royalty. Those affected by sexual assault remain in silence are forced to remain in silence often for an interminable period of time to the fear of not being believed. The women who survived R. Kelly are some of the strongest women I have listened to, not only for surviving R. Kelly, but for finding their voices to come forward and protect other women from the traumatic assault that they experienced. Furthermore, Robson and Safechuck aid in bringing awareness to the sexual assault that men face and are most often overlooked. While the recollections of the assault faced are nonetheless disturbing, they are necessary for individuals to fully comprehend the abusive tendencies of the monsters that live in our society.
Those individuals saying that these documentaries are too graphic and disturbing have the ability to turn the TV off, or switch to another channel. The victims, however, do not have the ability to just simply turn off the emotions and trauma that they faced. They are not able to “change the channel” in their life and pretend as if nothing happened. As viewers, we may be temporarily disturbed from these documentaries, yet, the victims are permanently scarred. All survivors deserve a voice; they are not to be muted.