The new allegations were made in the final installment of Lifetime’s “Surviving R. Kelly,” which aired on Jan. 2 and Jan. 3. The docuseries centered around R. Kelly’s 2022 federal trial where the NDA was brought up in the courtroom as evidence. The late Aaliyah was Jane Doe #1 in the trial.
“Surviving R. Kelly” utilizes Aaliyah’s story to spotlight her as a victim of R. Kelly, after years of the media and music industry scandalizing her marriage to the now-convicted singer in the 90’s.
Aaliyah’s debut album in 1994 was titled “Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number” and was recorded when she was 14-years-old. R. Kelly — who was Aaliyah’s mentor and was first introduced to her by her uncle, music executive and manager Barry Hankerson — was a lead songwriter and producer of the album. At the time the album was released, rumors circulated that there was a relationship between the 15-year-old Aaliyah and the 27-year-old R. Kelly.
The pair secretly married in August 1994. Aaliyah was 15 at the time, but the marriage certificate falsified her age as 18. The marriage was annulled by Aaliyah’s parents in Feb. 1995.
In “Surviving R. Kelly,” on-camera interviews with individuals from R. Kelly’s camp who were in the room when the duo wed express their regret over the marriage. Individuals who were close to both R. Kelly and Aaliyah share new details about the legal agreement that was allegedly forged between R. Kelly and Aaliyah’s family.
Members of Aaliyah’s family declined to comment to producers of “Surviving R. Kelly,” per a statement that aired as part of the Lifetime docuseries.
A childhood friend of R. Kelly and his former security, Gem Pratt, appears in “Surviving R. Kelly” and claims that Aaliyah’s father was furious over the marriage and forced the annulment. Pratt alleges that Aaliyah’s family had a contractual arrangement with R. Kelly that stated they wouldn’t press charges against him for the illegal marriage after it was annulled; in turn, R. Kelly sold the rights to his first three albums to Aaliyah’s family, giving them a financial incentive.
“Her dad didn’t want her anywhere near him,” Pratt says in the docuseries.
Various on-camera guests in “Surviving R. Kelly” described the marriage as a way to get R. Kelly to avoid jail time for statutory rape of a minor.
The final episodes of “Surviving R. Kelly” dedicate time to covering the enablers in R. Kelly’s camp, who turned a blind eye to his abuse over three decades and helped the convicted musician make arrangements to see his victims, including booking flights for underage girls to cross state lines for private meetings. One prosecutor who appeared as a legal expert in the docuseries described R. Kelly as “running a criminal enterprise.” Another expert said “everyone had a financial incentive to look the other way.”
“He couldn’t do this by himself. It’s impossible…It’s clear as day there were enablers,” said R. Kelly’s former security guard, Pratt. He later said, “This was not a one-man operation. Most people in that camp knew that a lot of these girls were underage. They had to.”
The NDA was brought up in R. Kelly’s New York trial in 2022, but did not receive widespread coverage. The use of NDAs has become a hot-button issue in sexual harassment cases, particularly in the workplace, highlighting an imbalance of power with the perpetrator or corporations silencing victims through forced legal documents.
Prior to R. Kelly’s trial, journalist Jim DeRogatis — the reporter who first broke news of R. Kelly’s sexual abuse more than two decades ago — uncovered the NDA that R. Kelly used against Aaliyah. A few years ago, DeRogatis spoke about the documents that were leaked to him, stating in an interview that the annulment and Aaliyah’s legal claim against R. Kelly had been sealed.
“It’s a harrowing document,” he said. “A non-disclosure agreement on both her part and Kelly’s, vowing not to pursue further legal claims for physical abuse. So, it wasn’t just an underage sexual relationship, he hit her, allegedly, according to that court document.”
Speaking to Variety about the final installment of “Surviving R. Kelly,” executive producer Jesse Daniels said that the producing team was careful not to exploit Aaliyah in the docuseries, and hoped to highlight the abuse she tragically endured by R. Kelly when she was a teenager. “We have had a lot of conversations about how to tell Aaliyah’s story every time because we really want to be respectful of her legacy. But what she went through, we can’t turn our backs on,” said Daniels.