We look at the shocking Lifetime documentary series Surviving R. Kelly, which chronicles two decades of allegations of sexual assault and misconduct against the celebrated R&B singer and producer. R. Kelly has been accused of abuse, predatory behavior and pedophilia throughout his career but has avoided criminal conviction despite damning evidence and multiple witnesses. We speak with Angelo Clary, whose daughter Azriel Clary met R. Kelly at the age of 17 and moved in with him with hopes of advancing her music career. He hasn’t seen her in almost four years. We also speak with Oronike Odeleye, co-founder of #MuteRKelly — a campaign to end R. Kelly’s music career — and an Atlanta-based arts administrator.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. We end today’s show with the shocking Lifetime six-part documentary series called Surviving R. Kelly. The series, which aired over three nights this past weekend, chronicles two decades of allegations of sexual assault and misconduct against the celebrated R&B singer, producer R. Kelly. This is a part of the trailer for the series.
UNIDENTIFIED: There’s a difference between R. Kelly and Robert. R. Kelly is this fun, laughing, loving guy. But Robert is the devil.
REPORTER 1: R. Kelly is at the top of the charts, but he may be in for a fall. He was arrested today on 21 counts of child pornography.
REPORTER 2: Kelly is accused of videotaping himself having sex with an underage girl.
RICHARD DEVINE: Taking advantage of minors will not be tolerated.
UNIDENTIFIED: Jurors found him not guilty on all charges.
ALLAN MAYER: Robert has said all along … he would be cleared of these terrible charges.
PROTESTERS: Shame on you! Shame on you! Shame on you! Shame on you! Mute R. Kelly! Mute R. Kelly! Mute R. Kelly! Mute R. Kelly!
AMY GOODMAN: That was the trailer for the documentary series Surviving R. Kelly.
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R. Kelly has been accused of abuse, predatory behavior, pedophilia, throughout his career. But despite damning evidence and multiple witnesses, he has been able to avoid criminal conviction.
Kelly married the late singer Aaliyah in 1994, when she was just 15. He was 27. The couple denied the marriage took place. It was later annulled.
In 2002, Kelly was indicted for possession of child pornography, after a tape surfaced that appeared to show him having sex with a teenage girl. A jury found him not guilty in 2008, after deciding they could not identify the girl.
For many years, Kelly reached out-of-court settlements with women who accused him of abuse, some who signed nondisclosure agreements that kept them from speaking out about the allegations. However, after a 2017 BuzzFeed article reported R. Kelly is keeping women against their will in an abusive cult, survivors and parents of victims have come forward with new allegations about his sexual, mental and physical abuse. This is Angelo and Alice Clary, parents of Azriel Clary, who met R. Kelly when she was 17.
ANGELO CLARY: The way they had to exit was through the back. So, during that time, we was waiting and waiting and waiting, and kind of getting a little nervous, went to the corner where the VIP was, and then that’s where she exited at, from the backside of the stage. He told us that he asked her to hear her sing. He liked her, so gave her a number to contact him.
ALICE CLARY: Azriel was in the 11th grade. We didn’t find out right away, but she was secretly, I guess, calling him and texting him, had been talking to him on the phone. One day, the time that she’s supposed to be home, I called, and she wasn’t home yet. Finally, we get a phone call. She finally called me and said, “Oh, I’m at a hotel and she said, oh, I’m in a hotel in Kissimmee meeting with R Kelly.” How and why, like, did this happen? Like, I was really shocked.
AMY GOODMAN: That was from the documentary series Surviving R. Kelly. And we’ll be speaking with Angelo Clary in Las Vegas in a moment. The series will reair in its entirety on Lifetime on Friday, January 11th.
Well, for more, we are going to Oronike Odeleye, co-founder of #MuteRKelly, a campaign to end R. Kelly’s music career, and an Atlanta-based arts administrator, who was also featured in this documentary.
Oronike, welcome to Democracy Now!
ORONIKE ODELEYE: Good morning.
AMY GOODMAN: This series is just heartrending, horrifying. For people who aren’t so familiar with R. Kelly, tell us who he is and when the allegations started surfacing, why you’re so deeply concerned about him and have really co-founded a movement against him.
ORONIKE ODELEYE: Well, R. Kelly is a internationally recognized singer, songwriter, producer, who’s had a number of hits over the last couple of decades, that have cemented him, in a lot of people’s mind, as the king of R&B. He is beloved in the African-American community for some of the more inspiring and uplifting songs that he’s written, like “I Believe I Can Fly” and “Step in the Name of Love.” I mean, those are staple songs at African-American weddings and graduations. And so, he’s very steeped in the culture.
I first heard the allegations —
AMY GOODMAN: R. Kelly, short for Robert Kelly.
ORONIKE ODELEYE: — when I was maybe 14, 15, around Aaliyah’s age, about that marriage. And I can remember, you know, thinking that was outrageous, from a kid’s point of view. And then many years passed, and I didn’t hear anything else, really, you know, going on with my life, going to college, you know, just wrapped up in other circles. And so, hadn’t heard anything else, until June, I believe it was, of 2017, when the allegations came out about the, what the media was calling, sex cult in his home in Johns Creek, which is right outside of Atlanta.
And at the time, I was sitting in my office, and I heard this on the news, and I just did a Google search. I was like, you know, “What is this? I haven’t heard anything about R. Kelly in years.” And when I did that Google search, I found article after article after article after article about all the allegations, all the court cases that had come up since Aaliyah. We’re talking about 25 years’ worth of women coming out and saying that “this person abused me,” “this person is violent,” that “he started a sexual relationship with me when I was underage.” And they were asking for the community’s help and were being largely ignored. And I just became incensed. I mean, I really just sat at my desk in my office fuming, like, you know, “How dare we let this go on for 25 years at the expense of dozens upon dozens of young black women!”
So, I didn’t know what to do. I’m not an activist by any kind of training. But I just was like, “You know, I’m just going to start a petition, a really humble petition, to try to get him off of Atlanta radio.” Atlanta, especially, cannot afford to support child molesters. We have a huge child sex trafficking problem in Atlanta. And I just was like, we just can’t — we all know this to be true, regardless of the fact that we have to say “alleged” in front of all of these accusations. Everybody saw that tape of him sexually degrading a 14-year-old girl. Regardless of whether or not he was convicted, 21 video instances of himself engaged in sex with underage girls were removed from his home. We all know he forged documents to marry a 15-year-old Aaliyah, who he had been mentoring since she was 12. So we know what this man is about. And we, as a community, need to say, even if we can’t put him in jail, we’re not going to give him our money anymore. We’re not going to financially support the lifestyle that we know that he’s living. And so I started that petition.
And then, Kenyette Tisha Barnes reached out to me when she saw me on the news, and said, “I have got to help. I’ve been doing this work, you know, and I want to help.” And the two of us formed #MuteRKelly and decided that not only were we going to try to get him off the radio, but we were going to try to get his concerts canceled, and we were going to try to get him off of streaming. We were going to make it impossible for other artists to want to work with him. We were going to cut off the money at every turn that we could, because it’s really his money that is insulating him from the consequences of his crimes. And so, if you stop the money, you stop his ability to hide. And so, that’s where #MuteRKelly was born.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to another clip from the docuseries Surviving R. Kelly. This is survivor Lisa Van Allen, followed by singer and former R. Kelly protégé Sparkle. Sparkle’s niece is allegedly the 14-year-old in the sex tape video for which R. Kelly faced, but was acquitted of, child pornography charges.
LISA VAN ALLEN: You know, I was kind of surprised when I actually ended up meeting him, because I just thought I’d be the last one he would try to talk to, because I was probably the youngest one there. Rob was sitting near the pool, and he was being really, really nice. And he asked me how old I was. And I told him I was 17. And he asked me, “Will your mother let you come to Chicago?” I knew he was at least 31, so I thought when I said 17 that he’d be like — you know, like that was going to be the deal breaker. But it wasn’t.
SPARKLE: Young girls are impressionable. Like, he’s R. Kelly. Now, look who I get. Look who’s showing me interest. He’s charismatic, funny, and he’s an all-around nice guy. But Robert is a master manipulator. Like, everybody knows it now. They didn’t know it back then.
LISA VAN ALLEN: I had heard about Rob’s reputation, about him dating Aaliyah, but I didn’t assume that he liked younger girls. I just thought — at that moment, I just thought he liked me.
AMY GOODMAN: So, that was Lisa Van Allen. And talk about the significance of this and Sparkle’s niece, the person Sparkle, who was a singer with Robert Kelly, with R. Kelly, alleges is her niece.
ORONIKE ODELEYE: Yeah, I mean, it’s such a hard documentary to watch, to see so many young women fall into this trap over and over again. But, you know, Sparkle is absolutely right: Young women are very impressionable. You know, and we say young women especially, but everyone is impressionable and is able to be manipulated by somebody that they look up to, they admire, they worship. I think, you know, there are grown people right now who have a celebrity, who if that celebrity dropped out of the sky and shone their spotlight on them, you know, would leave their husbands, wives, children, go run off to L.A. tomorrow. So, you know, I think to think that children would be less susceptible to that type of temptation is ridiculous.
You know, he has honed his trap at this point. When you hear all those ladies’ stories, it’s the exact same story over and over and over again. He’s using his charm, his looks, his fame, his money, his vulnerability as bait, and then he flips the script on them. And so, it’s really just unfortunate.
AMY GOODMAN: Oronike, this is Jerhonda Pace from the documentary Surviving R. Kelly, who says — I mean, this is just an amazing story, because she actually met him while she went to his trial almost every day, and he saw her as he was walking into court. She says she was 15 when she met Kelly.
JERHONDA PACE: I went to his trial because I was a superfan at the time. I didn’t believe he was guilty, and I didn’t want to believe that he was guilty. I was a freshman in high school. He was old for me to like him, but I fell in love with his music.
After Robert’s trial, his friend sent me a message and invited me to R. Kelly’s party. And in the middle of me texting him back, Rob, he actually called my phone. And he was telling me — he said, “I remember you.” And I said, “Well, what do you remember me from?” He said, “You came to my trial. Thank you for your support.” I was shocked. I felt like I was on top of the world.
AMY GOODMAN: That was survivor Jerhonda Pace, who alleges she was later sexually, mentally and physically abused while living in a cult-like atmosphere in Kelly’s home. Pace is now speaking out despite having received a cash settlement from R. Kelly in return for signing a nondisclosure agreement. And talk about — talk about, Oronike, these nondisclosure agreements.
ORONIKE ODELEYE: Well, I mean, that’s how he’s been able to kind of cover his tracks for years. There’s a lot of talk about women accepting these cash settlements, but not talk about him making these cash settlements. Part of it is, you know, when these cases come up, your lawyer takes a look at him and goes, “You need to make this go away, right? This is not something we want out in the public.” And so he offers them money for their silence.
And I think that they are judged for that, unfairly, because if we all think about our daughters, our nieces, the young people that we love in our life, would we want their name and their image and the terribly humiliating things that have happened to them all over the news forever? You know, women are forever judged and found guilty for any sexual indiscretion that they have for the rest of their lives. You know, at this point, Monica Lewinsky could cure cancer, and there’s still going to be a footnote on her legacy for something that happened decades ago. And who wants that for their child? What you want is for the person to pay for what they did. And if you’re not able to get that in court, for whatever reason, for statute of limitations, for lack of physical evidence, you want to make them pay however you can. And so, many of these people took the cash settlement and the NDA to make it go away and to also save their daughters that humiliation of having their name dragged through the mud.
I think if we want to create a society where people don’t take money and they fight it to court and they fight to get justice, we have to create a society where victims are not going to be blamed and judged for the things that happened to them. We have to create a society where this is not going to follow you for the rest of your life and be the defining moment of your childhood. We have to create a society where people actually look at the facts and the evidence, and not at the fame and the wealth and the smokescreen that money and fame are able to create, in order to really kind of see the merits of the case and judge it on that.
So, you know, I don’t judge any of these women for taking money for their silence. I don’t know that I would be able to put myself in their position. And they’re extremely brave for coming out in this documentary and telling their most humiliating, degrading moment of their life to the entire world. I don’t know many of us who would want to do that. So —
AMY GOODMAN: Oronike Odeleye, I want to bring Angelo Clary into this discussion, the father of Azriel Clary, who met R. Kelly at the age of 17, moved in with him with hopes of advancing her music career. He hasn’t seen his daughter in almost four years.
Angelo, thanks so much for joining us from Las Vegas. Can you talk about what has happened to Azriel, what you understand took place?
ANGELO CLARY: Yes, I can. I think the situation with Azriel was more of a personal situation that the world don’t really know about. It was a lot going on with Azriel prior to meeting R. Kelly. And that’s what led up to her being able to go to the show with us, and had to be at the show with us for her to even attend the show.
Moving right in — she never moved right in. We had an open conversation with R. Kelly after the event took place, and we — he gave her his phone number. And they started talking, I think, on a Sunday to each other. And on that Sunday, we had no idea that they was texting and already starting a relationship.
That Monday, she was supposed to been in school, and then she wound up not being in class. So, when we called — she drives to school. She always drove to high school. So, she didn’t report home at the right time. So, I think my wife called, and then she called me and told me that Az wasn’t home. So I called my son, who also went to school, and that’s how we figured out she wasn’t at school. We found out she left school early. And then we blew up her phone, just kept calling and calling and calling. No answer.
When we finally got an answer from her phone, she sent her mother a text and said she had an audition with R. Kelly. She had to leave school. She had to go over there and meet with him. So, we was like baffled. So, she told my wife that. My wife called me, said, “Hey, she at the hotel with this — with R. Kelly. We need to get there.” I leave work, she leaves work. We wound up meeting at the hotel in Kissimmee, Florida, where we see his tour bus, my daughter’s car.
We go in there, went to the registration, asked them for R. Kelly. Nobody knew where he was, or he was under that name, and they don’t have a celebrity here. You know, they have to protect the celebrity, so we understood that. So, we went in, started going door to door. Security was called. Police was called, for us disturbing the hotel. The security finally went up and found our daughter, went door to door, pulled the rooms. He had like a top floor with about seven, eight rooms. And they found him and my daughter in the room together.
We came down. They brung her down. Some kind of way, they didn’t bring him down. And the next thing, we asked the officer there, where was R. Kelly? He was like, “He’s supposed to be on his way down.” But he never came down. So, we heard that he left. He went out the back door or whatever. He was gone. We was more concerned about our daughter at that time.
We talked to her, asked her. You know, she put on this show for us. You know, “Hey, this is my career. He called me. You know, this is what it was. He asked me for an audition.” I was like, “Yeah, but, you know, you’re only supposed to — went without telling one of us, pre.” I mean, we already talked about who he was, his background, on the way home, when she told us that he gave her his number after the show, when she went on stage and sung for him.
So, you know, after that, we talked to her, went home. And then, what we didn’t know, that they had already had a sexual intercourse that day. We found out a year later, when —
AMY GOODMAN: Your daughter was 17 years old?
ANGELO CLARY: — she turned 18. She was 17 in Kissimmee, in Kissimmee, Florida.
AMY GOODMAN: We have to wrap up this segment of our interview, Angelo, but we’re going to do Part 2 and put it online at democracynow.org. But you have said that you don’t think this could continue if these children weren’t black girls and young women. Can you explain, as we end with this comment?
ANGELO CLARY: I think the comment was this straight blunt that if the females was Caucasian, this would have been — it wouldn’t have been to this amount of women or young girls, kids or anything. It would have stopped at one, maybe two, tops. I think in the black community that we want heroes. And we’re so scared to demolish somebody because of the good they make us feel with whatever talent they have, that we don’t want to be the one to say, “Hey, we’ve got to destroy you.” And I think this is why it really drug on as long as it did and he was so successful at getting away with it. But I really believe that, like, now, with more people understanding that, I don’t think that this is a black or white —
AMY GOODMAN: Angelo Clary, we have to leave it there, but we’re going to continue the discussion in Part 2. People can go online at democracynow.org. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks for joining us.