The first episode of Surviving R. Kelly Part II: The Reckoning features two women who, unlike most of the women in the Surviving R. Kelly documentaries, are not reporting abuse by the star. Nor are they social commentators pondering why Kelly has gotten away with his alleged behavior for so long. They are, rather, R. Kelly’s former assistants, and they have thoughts on the first Surviving R. Kelly installments that aired a year ago. “The women I saw in the docuseries were the type of women that Robert would have picked,” says Lindsey Perryman-Dunn, who worked for Kelly from 1999 to 2007. “And you know what they’re upset about? That they didn’t get the limelight until they were on Lifetime television.” She closes her eyes and purses her lips: a face of sorry not sorry.
It’s a shocking moment. Last year’s Surviving R. Kelly vividly highlighted the names, faces, and stories of numerous women who say they were abused by Kelly, resulting in such accusations being taken more seriously by the public, the media, and even law enforcement. The singer is now in jail and awaiting trial on charges that include child pornography and witness tampering. And yet the follow-up to Kelly’s takedown gives airtime to people who believe his denial of all allegations against him. Perryman-Dunn’s twin sister, Jen Emrich, who also briefly worked for Kelly, speaks as well, to praise the social-media campaign that has harassed and posted private information about Kelly’s accusers. Perryman-Dunn then says this:
I feel that a victim of any crime needs to call 911. If you have been raped or victimized, you need to go to the emergency room immediately. You need to seek medical help. You need to see a psychologist. You need get an attorney involved. You need to sue. You need to take action. I believe in the American justice system. I do not believe in the justice system which is going on right now, which is just the public justice system.
That statement might make some sense on its face, but—as the documentary goes on to demonstrate—it’s incoherent in the context of the nearly three-decade Kelly scandal. In five episodes airing over three nights (starting tonight), Part II elaborates on known allegations, brings new ones to the forefront, unpacks the cultural context for abuse, and describes the reception to the documentary’s first edition. Moreover, it demonstrates that any “limelight” alleged victims receive is dangerous, that the American justice system often proves insufficient to stop serial abusers, and that no amount of evidence will lead certain people to condemn a culturally prominent predator.