Readers note: This recap may be triggering to those who have experienced sexual assault.
In the final chapter of the Surviving R. Kelly docu-series, Azriel Clary’s situation escalated beyond her parents’ control. In 2015, A’Iceis Clary went to Chicago to look after her younger sister Azriel while she worked with R. Kelly. A’Iceis felt Kelly was manipulating Azriel and so she tried to leave with her. But Kelly allegedly pulled Azriel back. A’Iceis called the police but they were unable to verify Azriel was being held against her will. After this, Kelly allegedly told his security to make her disappear. After carrying her out and dropping her off, his security allegedly threatened to kill Azriel and Clary’s family if she were to say anything, she shared. The next day her parents flew to Chicago to meet with Kelly, who promised them he would bring a female guardian from his record label to look after Azriel until she finished her senior year of high school.
Presently, it’s been two years since they’ve seen Azriel. The documentary shows the parents recent attempt to find Azriel at Kelly’s studio in May 2018. When police said they didn’t have a legal reason to bust open the studio door, her parents stayed outside in hopes she’d come out. Azriel never appeared. Azriel’s father, Angelo Clary compared R. Kelly’s operation to that of a pimp. And given the freedom Kelly has had to allegedly behave in this way for decades, it becomes clear that more must be done to protect black girls and assure that their lives matter.
“Go look at Superfly and all those old ‘60s movies,” said Angelo Clary. “R. Kelly’s blueprint is the same as a pimp. And what he is doing is showing you, ‘I don’t care how much you cry, ‘I want my daughter, I want my daughter,’ your daughter gon’ be whatever he want her to be until he’s finished with her and give her back.”
After Azriel turned 18, the Clarys received an anonymous message connecting them with Joycelyn Savage’s parents. The Clarys were able to confide in them the emotional toll Kelly’s behaviors had on their families.
In 2017, they both requested the police in Chicago and Atlanta do wellness checks on Joycelyn Savage and Azriel Clary. But according to Kelly’s former employee, who appeared anonymously in the documentary, Kelly allegedly knew about the wellness checks before they happened because he had friends at the Chicago Police Department. After the wellness checks, police told the Clarys and Savages that their daughters were okay and appeared healthy.
Asante McGee, a former Kelly superfan, is another survivor who spoke about Kelly’s alleged sex cult. They met in 2013 when she was 35.
“He goes for the younger girls because they are weak minded, but if you’re older and he feels like you’re weak-minded he’s going to go for you too,” said McGee. “It doesn’t matter if you’re 16 or 40, if he could control you, that’s all he wants.”
Two years into the relationship he brought McGee to his rental property in Atlanta to live. McGee said other women were living in the house, too. When visiting the now vacant property for the film (Kelly was evicted in February 2018), McGee walked in a room that Kelly called “The Black Room,” a place where she said the most “degrading” things happened to her.
“Being in that house and witnessing [the abuse] with my own eyes, I regret not listening and believing the allegations that happened,” said McGee.
In May 2018, Faith Rodgers filed a lawsuit against Kelly, accusing him of infecting her with herpes and “mentally, sexually and verbally” abusing her. Rodgers met Kelly when she was 19 in March 2017. She said in May 2017, she was intimidated into having sex with Kelly. “I felt it was something I had to do,” Rodgers said. Kelly has not responded to Rodgers lawsuit.
By the end of 2017, Rodgers said she met Joycelyn Savage, who she described as robotic around Kelly. After walking away from the relationship in 2018, Rodgers connected with the Savages, who advised her to take a blood test, after they told her Joycelyn had an incurable sexually transmitted infection.
The stories of the Clarys, McGee, Rodgers, Savages and other victims were kept in the national conversation thanks to #MuteRKelly, a movement to end financial support for Kelly. Co-founders Kenyette Barnes and Oronike Odeleye launched the campaign in summer 2017 to stress the importance that Black women and girls are to no longer be ignored. #MuteRKelly supporters protested Kelly’s concerts nationally and called on Spotify to remove Kelly’s music from sponsored playlists.
“We still socially don’t perceive young black women as innocent and as deserving of protection,” said writer Mikki Kendall. “Somehow it’s their fault. When the reality is that the problem isn’t the girls, the problem is the predators.”
— Chance The Rapper (@chancetherapper) January 6, 2019
In 2018, more high-profile names in music began speaking out against R. Kelly, such as rapper Vince Staples in April and Chance the Rapper in May).
In May 2018, the Women of Color of #TimesUp, which included Ava Duvernay and Viola Davis, supported the cause. When #MeToo founder Tarana Burke asked veteran radio host Tom Joyner to stop playing his music, he complied. That was a big deal as much of his audience is the demographic supporting Kelly, Burke explained.
In response to the growing mainstream criticism, Kelly dropped a 19-minute track, I Admit” in May 2018.
As critics pointed out throughout the documentary, Kelly again used music to conceal his true nature in plain sight.
“It’s not like he’s hidden. But we have been afraid to look,” music critic Nelson George concluded.