Lifetime wrapped its “Surviving R. Kelly” docuseries event on Saturday night, focusing on the 2017 “sex cult” allegations and the efforts of several parents to get in contact with their daughters who have allegedly been lured away from them by “The Pied Piper of R&B.”
While allegations of sexual misconduct and abuse with women and underage girls have plagued Kelly for years, he has continued to deny everything and has never been convicted of any wrongdoing. The singer threatened to sue Lifetime if they aired the series, according to TMZ, but the network did not back down.
The first two hours on Thursday night covered Kelly’s upbringing through the mid-’90s, offering unsettling stories from women speaking out about their alleged experiences with Robert Kelly. On Friday, it was all about the now infamous video allegedly showing the singer engaged in sexual activities with a minor, and the fallout from his arrest and trial.
Saturday night was all about Robert’s alleged “sex cult.”
Much of these final episodes dealt with the coming together of parents of girls allegedly being held by Robert. Held, as was detailed by several psychologists, is not meant in a literal sense but rather by reported techniques of mental manipulation, physical abuse and gaslighting.
Dominique’s mother, Michelle Kramer, was committed to reuniting with her daughter, sharing that conviction and passion with Tim and JonJelyn Savage, who hadn’t seen their daughter Joycelyn in two years. The Savages also wound up connected with the Clarys, whose daughter Azriel broke off contact with them when she turned 18 and was already living with R. Kelly.
All of these parents have insisted on wellness checks with police departments in Chicago and Atlanta, and in every case where contact was made, the girls have indicated they were fine and they were not being held captive. Officers have said they looked healthy and there were no signs of abuse, so there was little they could do.
Joycelyn on TMZ
After the first allegations of a “sex cult” emerged via a Buzzfeed article in the summer of 2017, the Savages got their first look at Joycelyn via her appearance on TMZ.
According to the anonymous former staffer, that appearance was part of Robert’s strategy to regain control of the narrative. “First thing was to put Joycelyn in front of the camera on TMZ, which is something he ordinarily would not have done,” they said. “But because they said that Joycelyn was being held against her will and all that stuff, he had to clean it up.”
In that interview, Joycelyn denied that she was being held captive or against her will. The anonymous former employee said of her interview, “I would say that it was scripted, because Robert does not allow those girls to say anything that he has not told them to say.”
She appeared again a year later, but this time TMZ caught her on the street in Beverly Hills with another person. “When I saw the TMZ video (with Joycelyn) I looked over and it was my daughter Dominique,” Michelle Kramer said. “She was very unrecognizable because of how her hair was and she was all tattooed up.”
A Boy Toy
One of the more unusual elements of the story, evidenced by video and photographed footage, is how dramatically the appearance of one of the girls changed during her time with Robert. His former employee, who only spoke with the documentary through shadow and voice-altering technology, said this was intentional.
“Robert has molded Dominique into the boy he wanted her to be,” they said. “He’s had her dress in boy clothes and paint on a beard and mustache … So he treats her like his boy toy.”
Dominique was friends with Jehronda, who described their living situation together in Robert’s Atlanta home. They shared a home, according to Jehronda, but could not have been more separate.
“I didn’t see my friend Dominique in the house but I knew Dominique was there,” Jehronda said. “Me and her used to always try to meet up in the house and it never worked out. Robert always kept us separate. I would be isolated. I felt like a prisoner.”
A Daring Escape
Michelle had already agreed to fly to Los Angeles to tape footage for this docuseries, so she asked producers if she could try and track her daughter down while she was there. It was through this fortuitous series of events that she was able to make contact with Dominique after years apart over Mother’s Day weekend 2018.
The sequence of events that day raise even more questions about what exactly was going on with Dominique and her connection to R. Kelly. After talking briefly with Michelle at her room, Dominique spoke to her again via telephone. but when Michelle came back later that day, per Dominique’s request, the hotel manager told her that Dominique had called the police and said Michelle was not her mother.
Later, though, Michelle made her way into the hotel bathroom and Dominique met her there and they came out of the building together. So did Dominique call 911 or did someone else do it? She had said Joycelyn was in the room with her — as she was in the TMZ video with her — but there were no answers as to who made that call.
“That’s the hardest decision I ever had to make,” Dominique told Michelle in the car after they left the hotel, seemingly talking about the decision to leave the hotel and R. Kelly in order to return to her family.
The closing credits of the film revealed that Dominique did return to R. Kelly three days after the filmed rescue, but apparently again made her way back to Michelle and is now with her family.
Leaving R. Kelly
Several of the women spoke about how they simply packed up and left Robert when they’d decided they’d had enough, and in most cases, there seemed to be little resistance and virtually no contact once they’d made that call. Even Dominique ultimately walked out of the hotel with no incident.
Jehronda Pace who says she was 16 years old when she spent six months with Robert, talked about how she finally decided she’d had enough when Robert allegedly choked her until she blacked out. She described the encounter as six-foot Robert lifting her 5’1″ frame until they were eye level before she finally went unconscious.
Another girlfriend, Kitti Jones, describes simply packing up and going to the airport after she’d finally decided she had enough. In her case, she alleges she came to this decision after she was starved for three days. She admits she started freaking out at the airport and would have gone back if he’d answered her calls. He didn’t.
Asante McGee, who detailed her alleged living conditions in Robert’s Atlanta home, said that she finally reached her breaking point as well and simply packed up and left. The same thing happened with Faith Rodgers, a girl who met him as recently as last year. She says she left after he introduced her to his other “girls” and she saw how they were treated.
All of these stories seem to indicate that none of these women have been held against their will physically. There are other ways to hold people, though, and those are the allegations being levied against Robert by several of the “survivors” in this docuseries. These are the techniques of abuse and manipulation and they can be just as binding as physical restraints.
Buckets in Corners
Azriel Clary is the other prominent figure of these final two chapters as a young woman who went to live with Robert and has had no contact with her parents now in several years. But before breaking off contact and before she turned 18, the Clarys were insistent that a family member be with Azriel at all times.
It was through this arrangement that Azriel’s sister A’Iceis was with her at Robert’s Chicago studio where she alleges she saw the living conditions of several other girl who were apparently also living there.
A’Iceis said that everything took a left turn toward bad when she awoke one day and Azriel was gone, against the family’s arrangement. When she went to the studio, she says Robert’s cousin lied and claimed that Robert and Azriel had already gone, but after A’Iceis grew irate, Azriel emerged.
A’Iceis didn’t open up about the apparent conditions at the studio until much later, because, as she claims, Robert had his security throw her out and tell her, “If you say anything your sister won’t make it out alive, or your family.”
Later, she amended her story to her parents, revealing what she claims happened at the studio. “She knocked on every one of the doors. She said there was girls and stuff in other rooms, but they couldn’t talk, like they wouldn’t say anything,” said the girls’ father Angelo.
“She noticed buckets in the corner of every room and she said it looked like they were using the buckets to use the bathroom in,” added her mother, Alice.
“Am I Just a Beard”
Radio DJ Kitti Jones was one of a few anomalies in the narrative of women interviews for this documentary as she was in her 30s when she first met Robert. She said that everything felt normal to her until one of her friends talked to her about the infamous “pee tape.”
After looking into it, she realized that she recognized the girl in the tape as someone Robert had recently introduced her to. “I just didn’t know how to feel. I guess I felt like I was tricked into something,” she said. She claims that after she confronted Robert about it, he beat her.
“That was the first time he was very physical with me,” she said. From there, she described ongoing physical abuse and the familiar stories of controlling how and when she ate or went to the bathroom.
Trying to figure out why he was with her, she wondered, “I’m of age. Am I just a beard? I didn’t know.”
The Black Room
Another older woman — comparatively speaking — was Asante McGee, who says she met Robert when she was 35 years old. For the purposes of this documentary, Asante agreed to go back to Robert’s house in Atlanta, which has been empty since he was evicted for owing $30,000 in rent.
While she refused to go into the room she claimed was hers, she identified another room as “the black room.” Asante said she was moved into this house almost against her will, simply brought here after visiting him on tour and being told this was her home now. But she used the terms “us” and “we,” indicating Robert was allegedly moving several girls in at the same time.
She said the black room had black curtains and furniture and a bed in the middle of the room adorned in black sheets. “I just really feel like, this room right here, besides my bedroom, was like the most degrading thing ever for– I mean, it’s like– things that happened in here that you wouldn’t even think that would happen but you had to pretty much agree to it no matter how demeaning it felt or seemed, you had to always just play along with it.”
She also claimed she had to knock on the floor from upstairs in order to get Robert’s permission before she would be allowed to come downstairs. She said that sometimes she would knock for hours.
Black Girls Don’t Matter
One of the biggest through-lines of this series is the apparent lack of interest in the media, the music industry, the public and the black community in particular in taking any of these allegations against R. Kelly seriously.
“We’ve been watching them since they came forward in 2017,” #MeToo founder Taran Burke said of the Savages. “Tried various attempts to get media attention, but it doesn’t take hold. Again I think that goes back into this idea that black girls don’t matter. They don’t matter enough and it’s proven over and over again.”
Radio personality Charlamagne Tha God echoed Burke’s sentiment, saying, “”If R. Kelly had been doing this to white women, oh my god. The fact that it’s mostly young girls that he preys on, simply nobody cares.”
‘R. Kelly’s victims, nobody just cares about the black women that speak out, especially the black community,” said Jehronda Pace. “It’s the black community that bashes the black women that speak out about abuse.”
One of the more recent women involved with Robert, Faith Rodgers spent time with him in May 2018 and says he told her about “the girls” in December 2018. She was 19 years old when they met.
“He described them to be a family,” Jocelyn said. “He made it seem like a family thing. ‘These are women that I’ve raised. Some have been with me for 15 years, some have been with me for five years.'” But when she was introduced to them, she said she immediately recognized Joycelyn from TMZ.
“She literally, like, jumped up to him like a puppy, and kisses him on the mouth,” Faith said. “Seeing Joycelyn do exactly what he told her to do. She’s not acting like a real person. She’s acting like a robot.”
She further claims Joycelyn was almost numb when Robert wasn’t around. “I wouldn’t say she was kidnapped. Brainwashed? Yes, absolutely.”
After she left, Faith contacted the Savages who suggested she get tested for STDs. According to Faith, she discovered that Robert had given her herpes, and has subsequently filed suit against him. He has not yet responded to this suit.
“I knew I had to spread the word,” she said. “I wasn’t going to wait ten or 20 years to come out and say he did that to me. I was gonna come out now.”
Age of Consent
The Clarys discovered recently that Alice still had parental access over Azriel’s iCloud account, and therein found text messages she’d exchanged with Robert. They did not go into details, but are alleging that Robert and Azriel had sex the first time they met in Florida when she was 17. The age of consent in Florida is 18.
“I’m not putting down any other father, but it’s a little different when he dealing with me,” said Angelo Clary. “We not going to do ‘Hey’ to TMZ, the Buzzfeed back and forth. We not gonna play that game.”
He did not, however, say what he intends his next move to be. The Clarys have still not had any contact with Azriel, even after going to Kelly’s Chicago studio where they believe she is living.
Messages for Robert
The docuseries ended with messages directly to R. Kelly from various parents and women who claim to be survivors of his abuse.
“R. Kelly, if you’re watching this, I just want to hear my daughter’s voice. You’re keeping her from not just me and my wife, her whole entire family.” – Tim Savage (Joycelyn’s father)
“If I ever come across you again, it’s on and popping. That’s your head.” – Alice Clary (Azriel’s mother)
“Once she start, I’m right there beside her.” – Angelo Clary (Azriel’s father)
“And I don’t mind going to jail. I’ve been there before and I’ll go there back again. – Alice
“Take responsibility for the lives that you’ve destroyed. – Andrea Kelly (Robert’s ex-wife)
“You are not exempt. You are not special. You need to see the effects of your behavior.” – Jovante Cunningham
“Quit hurting people. Quit hurting these girls.” – Lisa Van Allen (former girlfriend)
“Stop seeking young women to fulfill your sexual deviancy.” – Lizette Martinez (former girlfriend)
“This can’t keep going on.” – Sparkle (former backup singer)
“I hope Robert is trying to get his sense together.” – Dr. Lena McLin (former music teacher)
“Whatever is in the dark will come to light. And until you do right by all of them girls, nothing is going to come good to you. Mark my word.” Michelle Kramer (Dominique’s mother)
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