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‘Surviving R. Kelly’ Part 2: The Price Of Protecting A Problematic Genius

The Lifetime documentary looks at the tactics Kelly used to manipulate his alleged victims.

Readers note: This recap may be triggering to those who have experienced sexual assault.

In part two of Lifetime’s Surviving R. Kelly documentary, the R&B singer’s older brother Bruce Kelly makes a startling claim about why his sibling preyed on younger girls. “It’s a preference,” he stated. To him, Kelly just simply likes them younger. But really it's an excuse for Kelly’s alleged predatory behavior and denial of the accusations stacked against him. Kelly also used his music to gain the continued favor of the public, which allowed his behavior to go unchecked since the 1990s. But at what cost? Tearful accounts of physical, mental and verbal abuse from survivors such as Lizzette Martinez, who met him at 17, and his ex-wife Andrea Kelly, detail the long-term trauma that results when the actions of abusers are allowed to fester.

“Sex with him felt not natural," Martinez said, who lost her virginity to Kelly. “I felt like a sex object.” Martinez said Kelly also had people follow her. A year into their relationship, she found out Kelly was already married.

Andrea Kelly met him when she was a 19-year-old dancer who auditioned for his tour. Shortly after joining his team, she grew closer to Kelly as he showed his vulnerable side such as revealing his insecurity about not being able to read.

But what neither could see was that someone like Kelly could use vulnerability to build trust with his victims before gradually establishing control over them.

In the documentary, psychologist Dr. Jody Adewale unpacked that a manipulative person can start controlling someone with small requests, such as demanding someone call them “daddy.” Then more intense demands follow, like making the victim wear certain clothing and saying they can’t move around the house freely. “The first cycle of abuse is called the honeymoon phase,” Adewale said. This is when everything is given freely, financially and emotionally. But this is temporary. Soon the victim will be walking on eggshells.

“You don’t believe in your own sense of judgment,” Andrea Kelly said.

In Martinez's case, she said the singer demanded she calls him “daddy.” She recalled the time he dragged her down a hallway because she talked back to him. He also told her to perform sexual acts while his friends were in the back seat of a vehicle. But when Martinez had a miscarriage, Kelly wrote the popular hit song about her called, “You Are Not Alone,” eventually performed by Michael Jackson.

“In hindsight all of those songs, they’re real stories,” Javonte Cunningham, Kelly’s former background singer, explained in the film. “They’re about different people during those times and different situations that were occurring with him. So 'You’re Body is Calling,' 'Sex Me'; those are real stories. 'Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number.' He meant that,” she continued.

Martinez eventually cut Kelly off after she caught Mononucleosis from him. She was in the ICU for two weeks and almost died. “He stole my life from me,” Martinez said.

For Andrea Kelly, once she was involved with the singer, he slowly began to isolate and control her, even on their wedding day.

“My wedding was a surprise wedding,” she said. Andrea Kelly described going to Colorado and entering a hotel room where there was a violinist and a cake. But her family wasn’t present and this wasn’t the way she imagined she’d be married. “He crossed that line from being generous to be controlling,” she said.

Although she noticed Kelly’s control issues, Sparkle, Kelly’s former background singer, still saw him as family. He was behind her most notable song, “Be Careful.” Sparkle thought she had a handle on Kelly until she introduced her 12-year-old rapper niece, to him. Sparkle feared the relationship was getting out of control once she found out her niece was going to his home and studio without her guardianship.

“He’s charismatic and an all-around nice guy, but Robert is a master manipulator,” Sparkle said.

Another alleged victim, Lisa Van Allen was 17 when she met Kelly during a video shoot. After, he asked her to come to Chicago where she would eventually stay. She revealed Kelly would have sex with her in his Chicago Trax Recording Studio, where there were multiple beds. “Robert would also film our sex acts, sometimes,” Van Allen said. “He would never ask if it was okay to film.” Kelly forced her to engage in sexual acts with girls as young as 14 and 16, she revealed.

One insightful point made by journalist Ann Powers was how Kelly used music to hide his behaviors in plain sight. One way is by creating inspirational songs, such as his No. 1 hit, “I Believe I Can Fly” so that fans can see him in a positive light. Another was by creating metaphorical, humorous and outrageous art representative of his real-life experiences, a tactic he used when releasing his 33-chapter opera Trapped in the Closet.

Ultimately, to be shielded from accountability for as long as Kelly has, the flaws of the legal system must also be called into question, which will be explored in the series' next chapter.

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‘Bad Boys 4’ Is Reportedly In The Works

Martin Lawrence and Will Smith are reportedly returning for another installment of the Bad Boys franchise. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Bad Boy’s 4 is already in the works.

Bad Boys for Life script writer Chris Bremner will return for Bad Boy’s 4, the outlet reported on Friday (Jan. 17). No word yet on when the film will be released, but fans can expect a much shorter wait than the 17-year gap between Bad Boy’s 2 and Bad Boys for Life. The film was delayed due to script issues.

“I just didn’t want to wreck the franchise,” Smith told Elliott Wilson during a CRWN interview last month. Lawrence echoed his words in an interview with GQ magazine.

“The script wasn’t right. And Will, to his credit, refused to do the movie until the script was right. It wouldn’t have been a good movie. We dint’ want that. We wanted to do a sequel where people would go, ‘Oh man, that’s what I’m talking about. It just get better.’”

Bad Boy’s for Life opened on Friday and is expected to bring in more than $67 million in its debut weekend.

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Review: 'Bad Boys For Life' Proves To Be A Promising Crowd-Pleasing Throwback

“We ride together, we die together” never really made that much sense as a slogan, did it? Regardless, the line that epitomized the appeal of Bad Boys, the uber-violent action buddy cop franchise that turned Martin Lawrence and Will Smith into movie stars back in the mid-90s. Smith and Lawrence– now fiftysomethings– are back for a third go-round with surprising and enjoyable new tricks.

In 2003, the eight years between Bad Boys seemed like an eternity. But there’s been seventeen years between Bad Boys II and Bad Boys For Life—the former hit theaters before an iPhone ever existed, just as the so-called War On Terror was hitting full swing and a wide-eyed Beyonce embarked on a nascent solo career. If the buddy cop genre was on life support in the early 2000s, the formula is almost completely post-mortem in 2020; most buddy cop flicks in more recent times have been subversive spoofs (like 2010s The Other Guys) or unfunny one-offs (like the forgettable CHiPs).

This time around, Mike Lowry (Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Lawrence) face the realities of middle age. Burnett is happy to waltz into retirement and into “Papa” territory, exhausted from chasing kingpins. Lowry, on the other hand, is ever more of an adrenaline junkie than in the past; addicted to the thrill and holding on to a “bulletproof” playboy image that’s getting sadder and sadder—particularly when he’s forced to admit he wrecked a promising relationship with fellow officer Rita (Paola Nunez) and every time he peppers his bravado with Millennial-speak like “Turn up” and “One Hunnid.”

Lowry’s disappointment in Burnett’s desire to leave the force turns into something harsher after a shooting forces Mike to take stock and Marcus distances himself from his old partner. Of course, this is all just a set up for the duo to reconnect in the face of tragedy—along with a gaggle of new recruits led by Rita; including a computer geek who may or may not be a killing machine, a young tough guy who hates Lowry for apparently no reason, and Vanessa Hudgens.

Bad Boys For Life has more heart than the lunkheaded Bad Boys II, directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Ballah don’t forego the departed Michael Bay’s formula for punchlines and hyperkinetic violence; there’s an opening knife sequence that’s almost gratuitously graphic, and an action set-piece on a bridge that may be the most ambitious in the series. There’s only a passing mention of Burnett’s sister (played by Gabrielle Union in the previous film) and an obligatory callback to II’s funniest moment involving his daughter, but a lot of the movie’s emotional core sits with Smith’s Mike Lowry. Smith plays his first action star with an almost meta-level of intensity.

He’s the sum of all Will Smith’s Will Smithiness in one character and gets to play with the idea of Lowry’s machismo persona. Together with the recognition that Lawrence isn’t really an action star (the film smartly turns his affinity for sitting and watching as Smith jumps headfirst into heroics into a running gag), it’s a good turn for the characters and helps elevate the second half of the movie after a somewhat rote first half.

As the film’s “big bad,” Telenovela action star Kate del Castillo isn’t given a whole lot to do, nor is Jacob Scipio as Armas, as her son and steely hitman, who is on the hunt for Lowry. Reliably familiar support from Theresa Randle as Burnett’s long-suffering wife and Joe Pantoliano as the perpetually-flustered police captain Conrad Howard reminds everyone that this is a Bad Boys flick, and the actors clearly relish jumping back into their long-standing roles.

But these films always work best when Smith and Lawrence get to quip lines back-and-forth while dodging bullets, and the easy partnership between the two remains intact, even when the film lags under its own clichés or the sentiment borders on silly. There’s a twist that feels especially contrived and so many self-referential moments where Marcus and Mike seem to almost know that they’re in a movie about Marcus and Mike (who say “Bad boys for life” as a wedding toast, really?), but there’s a breeziness to the proceedings that feels more in line with the easy fun of the 1995 original—as opposed to the frenetically hyperactive feel of its sequel.

Anyone who is excited to see Bad Boys For Life wants to go into it for what these movies have always managed to give their fans; just enough comedy sprinkled with just enough to story to justify eye-popping action sequences and RoboCop-levels of bloodshed. The buddy cop genre was always predictable, but the best of it—classics like Lethal Weapon, Beverly Hills Cop and, yes, the first Bad Boys film—has always been a fun night at the movies.

In that regard, Bad Boys For Life doesn’t disappoint. It’s coasting on the easygoing partnership of Smith and Lawrence, as it always has. 25 years ago, they were two of the biggest stars on television, making a somewhat unlikely leap to action stardom in a movie initially written for then-Saturday Night Live comedians Dana Carvey and Jon Lovitz that was being directed by a guy most people had never heard of. We may be a vastly different audience today than we were in the 1990s or 2000s, but there’s some fun in watching how different Mike and Marcus are too.

Franchises like Rush Hour and Lethal Weapon seem like big blockbuster brands of yesteryear, as a whole generation of moviegoers have grown up with vast comic book spectacles or rapid-chase car flicks overpopulated with musclebound tough guys. As such, Bad Boys For Life stands as a sort of throwback in popcorn entertainment; that reliable action-comedy that coasts on the chemistry and charisma of its leads—more so than otherworldly special effects or universe-building.

The constant mentions of “One last time” statements remind the audience that this could be the final go-round for Mike and Marcus. Big box office returns can reroute retirements, but if this is indeed the grand finale for Bad Boys, there are worse ways to go out. In a world where Lethal Weapon 4 and Rush Hour 3 exist (with talk of another in the Chris Tucker/Jackie Chan series coming down the pike), Bad Boys For Life should be praised for what it does manage to do so well. It’s fun, violent escapism that doesn’t ask too much of anyone. And sometimes that’s really all we need these movies to be.

Bad Boys For Life opens in theaters Friday, January 17.

Director(s): Adil El Arbi, Bilall Fallah Starring: Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, Vanessa Hudgens, Jacob Scipio, Alexander Ludwig, Kate del Castillo, Joe Pantoliano, Charles Melton, Paola Núñez, Nicky Jam, DJ Khaled.

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Tyler Perry's 'A Fall From Grace' Cast Talks The Film's Lessons In Life And Love

Love can truly be an emotional rollercoaster. When it's high, it feels beautifully warm. But when it's low, it can become really cold and dark. The enactment of the latter can be seen in Tyler Perry's upcoming Netflix film, A Fall From Grace.

While feeling disheartened after discovering her ex-husband's affair, new divorcee Grace Waters played by Crystal Fox (The Haves and Have Nots) finds herself alone and lonely. With encouragement from her best friend Sarah Miller (Phylicia Rashad), she goes out to an event where she meets what she thought to be the love of her life which she soon finds to be her biggest nightmare.

Perry plays an obnoxious defense lawyer (Rory) with no intention of doing much defending and instead adamantly insists that his prodigy Jasmine (Bresha Webb) push for a plea deal. But after meeting Waters, Jasmine isn’t so sure about her guilty admission and suspects foul play. When curiosity meets persistence, the film takes you on a journey of unveiling plot twists that will have you on the edge of your seat guessing hard about how the story will end.

VIBE chatted with the actors behind these characters to talk about love and relationships and the importance of being aware.

"Keep your heart open but keep your eyes open, too; Watch out for red flags," said the film's writer, director, and producer. "Keep your heart open. Love yourself before you look for somebody else to love you, and remember that grace is over you and in you," added leading lady Fox.

When asked what they hope viewers walk away with after watching the crime drama film, Webb pointed out: "I feel like as well as being on the edge of your seat and [while] you're watching it and you're being lost in the drama, also leave with a knowledge of knowing what this movie encompasses together."

Legendary actress Rashad concluded, "I think it's always great for me as an artist when an audience can walk away feeling satisfied, yes? But also reflective of what they've experienced and continue to reflect on the experience."

Ultimately, this movie is a must-see and what is said to be Tyler Perry's best work. A Fall From Grace hits streaming platforms Friday, January 17 on Netflix.

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