Most of us are already well aware that R. Kelly is one of the entertainment industry’s most prolific monsters.
Lifetime’s Surviving R. Kelly documentary series aims to allow survivors to tell their own stories about the former King of R&B and his sex cult.
In addition to personal horrors they experienced, they reveal that there were eyewitnesses to R. Kelly’s relationship with a very underage Aaliyah.
Fair warning: reading a heartbreaking description of brainwashing and abuse is different from hearing it.
Survivors of physical and sexual abuse are entitled to cry, but hearing it can be tough on audiences.
Still, watching Surviving R. Kelly will be worth it.
Lifetime’s 6-part docuseries will feature eight people who either escaped R. Kelly or tried to help loved ones whom they say are trapped.
The first episode airs on Thursday night, and features former backup singer Jovante Cunningham.
She says that she met R. Kelly when she was just 14.
She also says that she was one of the witnesses who saw him prey upon the very underage Aaliyah.
Cunningham describes her first impression of Aaliyah, who was only 12 years old.
“Aaliyah [was] very tom-boyish, glasses, braces, no swag,” Cunningham recalls.
“She truly was a beautiful young lady,” she continues. “We used to sneak Aaliyah out of the hotel room and take her all over the place.”
Aaliyah would go on to make a splash with “Age Ain’t Nothin’ But A Number,” which was to no one’s surprise written by R. Kelly.
In the ’90s, society in general was a little less conscious of and on guard for predator celebrities.
“Those were the good old days,” Cunningham remarks. “But those are the things that also make you cry.”
Cunningham breaks down into tears as she describes her discovery that Kelly and Aaliyah, then 15 years old, were in a sexual relationship.
“We were out on the road with Aaliyah,” she explains. “On a tour bus, there really aren’t many confined spaces.”
“When you get on the bus there are bunks,” she describes.
“And,” she details. “So these bunks have little curtains you can pull at night if you don’t want anybody to see you sleeping.”
“So it just so happened we were all laying in our bunks and the curtains are open, everybody’s communicating, laughing,” Cunningham says.
“When the [room] door flew open on the bus,” she recalls. “Robert was having sex with Aaliyah.”
The interviewer asks Cunningham what she saw transpire between Robert Sylvester Kelly and Aaliyah Haughton.
“Things that an adult should not be doing with a child,” Cunningham answers.
Kelly would have been 27 at the time.
That age gap with a minor is chilling, made worse by the possible implication that he could have begun the relationship when she was even younger.
Cunningham adds: “I can’t stress to you how people are still suffering behind things that went on 20 years ago.”
Trauma is real, and it lingers.
In 1994, it was widely reported that R. Kelly and Aaliyah had entered a secret marriage, even though Aaliyah was only 15.
Neither party ever directly addressed those reports.
Demetrius Smith, who was formerly an assistant to Kelly, says that he remembers that time all too clearly.
“Robert came to me, we were in Miami,” Smith says.
Smith recalls: “Robert said, ‘Man we got Aaliyah in trouble’.”
“Robert mentioned to me that ‘I think she’s pregnant,'” Smith says. “That broke my heart right there.”
He was heartbroken “because I really believed him when he said that he wasn’t messing with Aaliyah.”
“Once he told me that,” Smith shares. “I was at a loss for words.”
“I was in the room when they got married,” Smith reveals. “I’m not proud of that.”
“I had papers forged for them when Aaliyah was underaged,” Smith admits.
The marriage certificate reportedly listed her age as 18 when she was, in fact, 15.
“It was just a quick little ceremony,” he shares. “She didn’t have on a white dress he didn’t have on a tux.”
“Just every day wear,” Smith characterizes before adding: “She looked worried and scared.”
That marriage was short-lived and was reportedly annulled within the year by Aaliyah’s parents.
“Her parents had the last say,” Smith explains.
Aaliyah went on to have a monumental career … only to die in a tragic plane crash in 2001.
The alleged child marriage was not R. Kelly’s last scandal.
There was also the infamous “pee tape” in which a man appeared to urinate upon a young girl.
Though the 15-year-old girl was allegedly identified, both she and R. Kelly insisted that they were not the people in the video.
He would go on to be acquitted of multiple charges of child pornography.
Then, in 2017, multiple women came forward with horror stories about R. Kelly’s alleged sex cult.
They described a process of grooming them and making them dependent upon him, followed by physical abuse, confinement, and the use of starvation as a punishment.
Time’s Up launched the #MuteRKelly campaign.
We can only hope that this docuseries helps to put an end to his career.