The ripple effect of “Surviving R. Kelly” continues to widen more than a week after the documentary aired on Lifetime, renewing public interest — and outrage — over the litany of sexual abuse allegations against the R&B artist.
Lady Gaga and Phoenix have apologized for working with him. Chance the Rapper and other artists are said to be pulling their musical collaborations from streaming platforms. More accusers have reportedly stepped forward.
“The feedback has just been remarkable and completely unexpected that it’s sort of become as big as it has,” said Lifetime’s Brie Miranda Bryant, an executive producer and the network’s senior VP of unscripted development and programming. “(It’s) certainly transcended the doc itself.”
The six-part series brought in an average of 2.1 million total viewers in the live-plus-same-day figures, high ratings for Lifetime. But its impact goes beyond the numbers.
Jesse Daniels, another executive producer of the documentary, said that since the series aired, there’s been an increase in callers reaching out to abuse helplines. Calls to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) hotline spiked 20% following the airing of the documentary, according to NBC News.
The national dialogue that it has ignited likely wouldn’t have happened without the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements, indicated Bryant, calling post-documentary talk the “next step” of an “inclusive conversation” that crosses gender lines.
“It’s men and women talking about sexual violence in general and talking about how they talk to each other and how they talk to their kids and how kids are talking to kids,” she told Variety. “When you have the privilege to make content that impacts culture, it really can only do so organically, and the hard work of this documentary was a trigger for those conversations, so again, just a privilege for us.”
And perhaps most significantly, the documentary appears to have spurred a wave of potential legal action against Kelly. A criminal investigation examining the allegations has reportedly been opened in Georgia. In Illinois, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx has publicly asked for victims to speak up.
Prosecutors have not reached out to Lifetime, to Bryant’s knowledge.
When asked if they had expected “Surviving R. Kelly” to provoke legal proceedings, Bryant said, “I don’t think that was ever our intention in going into it. I think where we always have been, and where we remain, is how do we provide the proper platform for these women to be heard? And so that’s still the direction that we’ll always look, from Lifetime’s standpoint.”
There currently are no plans to produce a follow-up to the well-received documentary.
“I think we’re just processing what’s just happened and the conversation that it’s sparked, and that’s kind of where we are at the moment,” she said.