The six-part documentary that debuted Thursday night contains more than 50 interviews. It features testimony from women who accuse Kelly of mental, physical and sexual abuse, as well as interviews with associates and relatives of the singer R. Kelly, including his brothers Carey and Bruce Kelly. Tarana Burke, the founder of the #MeToo movement, and singer John Legend, Drea Kelly, Wendy Williams also provided commentary.
John Legend took to Twitter to respond to the praise he received for agreeing to take part in the docuseries.
“To everyone telling me how courageous I am for appearing in the doc, it didn’t feel risky at all,” he said in a tweet, adding that it was an “easy decision.”
Jada Pinkett Smith urged parents to watch “Surviving R. Kelly” with their children, as she did with her daughter.
A key voice in the final two hours of “Surviving R. Kelly” is an anonymous former employee of Kelly’s, whose voice is disguised and face is not revealed, who says they worked with Kelly until recently. The person described one of the women that Kelly allegedly coerced into living with him, Dominique Gardner, and how Kelly dressed her up to look like a boy, cutting her hair and dressing her in men’s clothing.
“There was a staff member who tried to help Dominique,” the anonymous former employee said. “It was a situation where Dominique expressed how she was being mistreated. To Robert, Dominique is the rebellious one, she stays in trouble. She’s a little tomboyish, and Robert plays on that, so he has molded her into the boy he wants her to be. So he’s had her shave all her hair off, he has her carry herself like a boy. He’s even had her dress in boy clothes and paint a beard and a mustache on, to look like a boy. He treats her like his boy toy.”
The “Surviving R. Kelly” team staged a rescue of one of Kelly’s alleged victims
In July 2017, Buzzfeed News published a bombshell story from Chicago reporter Jim DeRogatis, who originally helped break the news of Kelly’s misconduct in the ’90s, claiming that Kelly keeps women secluded from their families in his Atlanta and Chicago properties as part of a “cult.”
Joycelyn Savage was a 21-year-old woman named in report as one of the women who Kelly was allegedly isolating and holding against their will. Savage, whose parents had publicly accused Kelly of kidnapping their daughter, told TMZ in a video that she was living with Kelly on her own free will.
In possibly the most remarkable moment of the six-hour docuseries, Michelle Kramer, Dominique Gardner’s mother, traveled with the “Surviving R. Kelly” crew to Beverly Hills in May 2018 to attempt to locate her daughter after seeing Gardner in another TMZ video with Savage.
“(Kelly) always have her staying at the same hotels, so that’s where I want to go,” Kramer said, arriving at a hotel and successfully finding her daughter’s room, accompanied by a camera crew and a hotel manager.
“Nikka, I need you to come home,” Kramer is shown saying repeatedly to Gardner, using her daughter’s nickname. “Nikka, don’t do this. If I came this far, Nikka, don’t you dare.”
Gardner told Kramer to come back at 6 p.m., and when Kramer returned, the hotel manager told her that Gardner called 911, telling police that Kramer was not her actual mother. The hotel manager told Kramer that a police report was filed, and the authorities would be called if she did not leave.
Undeterred, Kramer snuck back into a stall in the hotel bathroom, where Gardner met her with her bag, and they escaped together into a car.
“That’s the hardest decision I ever had to make,” Gardner said, crying.
The documentary later reveals that Gardner returned to Kelly three days after her escape, but later left again, and is currently back with her family.
As R. Kelly rises to fame and power as an R&B icon, he forms relationships with younger singers and dancers. Rumors about his marriage to a fifteen-year-old Aaliyah do little to stop his meteoric trajectory.