‘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.