UPDATED: A New York City screening for Lifetime’s upcoming documentary series “Surviving R. Kelly” was evacuated over a gun threat on Tuesday evening. A Lifetime rep tells Variety the event was evacuated as a precaution after the venue received two anonymous calls.
Present at the screening and conversation, held at NeueHouse Madison Square in the Gramercy area of Manhattan, were #MeToo founder Tarana Burke, along with seven R. Kelly accusers: his ex-wife, Drea Kelly, Kitti Jones, Asante Jones, Faith Rodgers, Lizzette Martinez, Lisa Van Allen and Jerhonda Pace. All of the women spoke out in the documentary, and were set to share their stories on a panel at the Tuesday night event.
The event began with a screening at 7:00 p.m., which was planned to be followed by an 8:30 p.m. panel discussion and then a reception. Roughly 15 minutes after the screening began, two anonymous, threatening calls were made into the venue with the caller stating that someone had a gun in the theater. The calls were routed to the NYPD who suggested evacuating the theater.
“It was very painful for the survivors that they were not able to share their stories,” a source tells Variety.
“At tonight’s premiere of Lifetime’s documentary series ‘Surviving R. Kelly’ at NeueHouse Madison Square, several anonymous threats were called in. As a precaution, the network elected to evacuate the building. The safety and security of our panel, guests and staff is of paramount importance to Lifetime,” the network said in a statement.
The venue also issued a statement: “NeueHouse has always existed to celebrate creatives, entrepreneurs and activists with important and meaningful stories to share. The safety of our storytellers and of our members is always our first priority. Tonight was no different. Despite non-credible threats called in during tonight’s screening, we followed appropriate safety protocols in collaboration with the NYPD and elected to postpone the event. We stand by the creative women bringing these heroic stories to light.”
Burke, who appears in the documentary series and was a panelist at the Tuesday night event, tweeted about the evacuation, writing that the gun threat “didn’t appear to be credible,” suggesting the threat was in order to silence the women, moments before they were about to speak up against Kelly on the panel. On Instagram, Burke wrote “I am unnerved. I can’t believe these intimidation tactics. But we will prevail.” She included the hashtag #MuteRKelly.
“Surviving R. Kelly” is a six-part, three-night documentary series that puts a spotlight on accusers of R. Kelly, the Grammy-winning R&B singer, who has been accused by multiple women of sexual misconduct and abuse. Earlier this year, the #TimesUp movement backed a protest of Kelly. In 2017, the musician was accused by three sets of parents of holding their daughters in an abusive cult, though Kelly has denied the allegations. Two of the families who are trying to get their girls back — Angelo Clary, JonJelyn and Timothy Savage — were in attendance at the Tuesday evening screening.
The Lifetime series, which premieres on Jan. 3, brings together alleged victims of Kelly, who are described by the cable network as “survivors,” to share their allegations of his sexual, mental and physical abuse. The project features more than 50 interviews with accusers and public figures including Burke, John Legend and Wendy Williams.
A rep for Kelly did not immediately respond to Variety‘s request for comment.