Last week, reports surfaced of a new videotape showing singer R. Kelly engaging in sex acts with an underage girl. This is not the first time the R&B superstar has been accused of sexual abuse. Allegations have circled Kelly for decades; in 2002, a videotape surfaced that purportedly showed Kelly engaging in sexual acts with a teenage girl.
Until recently, the accusations did not seem to significantly impact Kelly's career. Though Kelly was indicted in 2002 on 21 counts of child pornography, a Chicago jury later acquitted him of all charges in 2008.
But activist, filmmaker and writer dream hampton isn't about to let Kelly off the hook. hampton executive produced Surviving R. Kelly, a six-part docuseries focusing on Kelly's alleged victims and their family members. hampton says the series, which first premiered on Lifetime on Jan. 3, is currently streaming on Lifetime's website and will re-air on Feb. 25, is about "centering the women."
hampton describes an "ecosystem" that has supported and enabled Kelly over the years — at the expense of black women. "There's a record industry that continued to do business with him in small and big ways," she says.
But hampton hopes that the tide is finally turning. She notes that the grassroots #muterkelly movement has raised awareness in the music industry and helped limit the radio play of Kelly's songs. Since the series aired, Sony Music dropped Kelly and Spotify downgraded him. Still, hampton says, "we've seen five million streams of his music happen directly after the docuseries aired, and we saw two of his songs re-chart."
On allegations against R. Kelly being well-known in his hometown of Chicago
It's really well-known in Chicago, for generations ... He would cruise McDonald's near high schools and have someone from his team go up to a girl, get her number and she didn't have to be anything. She didn't have to have long hair or short hair. [She could] be light skinned or dark skinned and have a great body or a bad one. All she had to be was young. And so, we have lots of evidence of him cruising not only McDonald's, but then also his old high school, Kenwood Academy, which was a kind of school that was renowned for its excellent music program and choir. Sometimes as a guest sometimes just as a drop-in, he would cruise girls at his high school.
On the videotape that allegedly showed Kelly sexually abusing a teenage girl
I didn't watch it until I began making this docuseries. ... I avoided it because I thought it to be child porn just from the descriptions. But when I actually saw it, it had nothing to do with sex. It was all about barking commands at and humiliating and degrading this young, young girl.
She appears to be prepubescent, but we later learned that she was Sparkle's niece, and there was whole trial about that case. Sparkle was an R&B singer who lived in the studio. She was being mentored by R. Kelly. He was producing and writing her album. So, he met that victim because her aunt lived in the studio, as one does when one's recording an album, and her family, who were a family of musicians, would come by. He met her, Sparkle says, as early as 12.
On criticism that the survivors didn't go to the police
That confounds me, especially coming from black people. I really didn't know until I started reading these tweets directed at me and some of the survivors that we had some fantasy about there being some vice squad dedicated to kind of busting down doors for black girls and to save black girls.
We also have testimony ... about the Chicago Police Department giving R. Kelly a heads up when one of the parents, for instance, had convinced the police to do a wellness check on their daughter. At this point, she was over 18. They couldn't really make a claim, but they begged the police to at least check on their daughter and make sure that she was OK.
Someone in the Chicago Police Department — likely someone who worked security on their off-duty hours — called him, and told him it was happening. And they got the studio ready and got the girls out of the studio before the police arrived.
On a pattern in the black community of protecting black men at the expense of black women
We know that this system is unfair to black people — not just black men, but black people. We often rhetorically talk about black men being targeted and treated unfairly and abused in the criminal justice system — but it's black people.
We know what this system does to us, right? So to turn to that system for justice is itself an oxymoron. But at the same time, we have a knee-jerk reaction to protect black men, always at the expense of black women. People like bell hooks and black feminists before me have written about this and talked about this and done scholarship about this, but nothing has changed about this. ...
So this is something that we see generation after generation, and R. Kelly has a particular kind of love, which acts as a currency in the black community. He is singularly an R&B artist. He makes black music for black people ... and he has used that love as a cover.
On R. Kelly being sexually abused himself as a child
What R. Kelly was as a child was raped and molested. He uses the word "molested." ... So he has some kind of understanding. ... [People on his team] knew that he was abused. Many of them there were Chicago-based people who knew that family members had been abusing him as a child. That's deep trauma that needs real healing.
I'm not saying that at 52, which is the age R. Kelly is right now, when he has two very young women living with him, whose parents are looking for them, that there's some magical age when you are supposed to have a healing, because many people don't heal their entire lifetimes. I have childhood trauma that I'm still trying to heal and I'm five years younger than R. Kelly. ...
It's cliché to say, but almost all abusers have been abused, but not all people who have been abused become abusers. So there comes a time when R. Kelly is absolutely responsible for the harm that he's caused.
On why she wants to do this work
When I started writing about hip-hop as a 19-year-old film student in New York, I was calling out the misogyny and the violence against women. And I'm sad to say I don't feel that there's been too much progress made.
I come from all-black Detroit city and I live and breathe in black spaces. And I want them to be safe not just for my daughter and me, but [also for] black women who don't want that safety for themselves, who've internalized the misogyny and don't think that they deserve the safety and justice that they deserve.
Heidi Saman and Thea Chaloner produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Bridget Bentz, Molly Seavy-Nesper and Sidney Madden adapted it for the Web.
TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. For years, the R&B star R. Kelly was surrounded by allegations that he had sexually abused women, some who were in their early teens. A now-infamous home video from around 2002 appearing to show Kelly having sex with and urinating on a 14-year-old girl was bootlegged and widely circulated. The video led to Kelly being charged with 14 counts related to creating child pornography. The jury acquitted him on all counts. The new docuseries "Surviving R. Kelly" includes interviews with several women who describe how they say he sexually, physically and emotionally abused them and made it difficult or impossible for them to leave him. Several of the young women's parents are interviewed, too.
The series also includes interviews with music and culture critics discussing why it took so long for the music industry and fans to stop protecting him. The series helped lead to new investigations into Kelly in Chicago and Atlanta. Last Thursday, a new video also showing him urinating on a girl who appears to be in her early teens was handed over to the Cook County State's Attorney's Office.
My guest is the executive producer of "Surviving R. Kelly," Dream Hampton. "Surviving R. Kelly" will be shown again on Lifetime beginning February 25. Heads up to parents - there are parts of this interview that may not be appropriate for young children. Let's start with a clip. This is Kitti Jones, a radio DJ who met R. Kelly when she was in her early 30s and then moved to Chicago to be with him. Here's her description of the training period he put her through and the kind of punishment she endured.
(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "SURVIVING R. KELLY")
KITTI JONES: There's a period that - he calls it training you. He used those words with me plenty of times. I didn't understand that training me was like, OK, let me put this out here and see if she is comfortable with that. You definitely had to ask to go to the restroom, stand up when he walks in the room. You had to ask for your food. I was not allowed by Rob to watch TV back then. "Dance Moms" was a show that he would look at ironically with little girls dancing or whatever. But I never saw any reality shows on VH1 or anything that was negative or might have anything that would, I guess, pertain to him or put any negative thoughts.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: What does it mean to be in trouble with Rob for one of the girls?
JONES: Being on punishment could be either you're not getting food or you took a beating, and he's not talking to you. It was just a molding and shaping me into this person. And then once I realized this is what it's become, it's too late, and I'm in it.
GROSS: That's Kitti Jones from Dream Hampton's documentary "Surviving R. Kelly." Dream Hampton, welcome to FRESH AIR. What are some of the things Kitti Jones didn't mention that you found to be typical of the women who R. Kelly is alleged to have abused?
DREAM HAMPTON: Well, one of the things that each of them said, which I found really shocking and it spoke to how aware he is of how abusive his behavior is and how manipulative he is, it was this thing that he does where he makes people early on in relationships with him write out false confessions where they will falsely admit to stealing something from him, to having extorted him or family members extorting him. And he tells them that he's been betrayed and hurt and people have taken advantage of him and that he needs this for insurance. And almost all of them signed it. And I just found that remarkable.
GROSS: Give us an example of that.
HAMPTON: They would have to sign - write out in their own handwriting a confession that says, me and my parents tried to blackmail you. And then they would sign it. And they would have, like, kind of details, false details, about how that happened. Or they would say something like I lied to you about how old I was when I met you. And then they'd sign it.
GROSS: So he could actually use that to say that they were accusing him falsely because it was a part of their blackmail scheme.
HAMPTON: Exactly. I actually think that probably one of the people on his team came up with that, which may make it even more nefarious. But, yeah, that was something that girl after girl from different periods - women who entered his life post the trial all had that same story.
GROSS: The first woman who we found out about was Aaliyah, the singer who was mentored by Kelly. He wrote songs for her first album. He produced it. They married when she was, I think, 15, but the marriage certificate make it seem like she was really 18. Someone on R. Kelly's team changed the date. She died in a plane crash shortly before 9/11.
So she was introduced to R. Kelly through her uncle, who's a record producer. So this was all like - she was, you know, a music person. But most of the women and girls who he was with were not part of the music industry. What were his ways of finding young girls and young women who were vulnerable enough for him to take advantage of?
HAMPTON: Well, this tape came out in 2002, which was actually two years after I'd written a profile about him. And it absolutely was evidence of him abusing what appeared to be a pre-teen, which we later found out was a 14-year-old. And people have wrongly called it a sex tape. It was absolutely an abuse tape. I didn't watch it until I began making this docuseries. When it was going kind of viral on the streets in 2002, I avoided it because I thought it to be child porn just from the descriptions. But when I actually saw it, it had nothing to do with sex. It was all about barking commands and humiliating and degrading this young, young girl.
She appears to be prepubescent, but we later learned that she was Sparkle's niece. And there was a whole trial about that case. And Sparkle was an R&B singer who lived in the studio. She was being mentored by R. Kelly. He was producing and writing her album. So he met that victim because her aunt lived in the studio as one does when one's recording an album. And her family, who were a family of musicians, would come by. And he met her, Sparkle says, as early as 12.
Other girls that he met, especially the young ones, he would cruise at places like McDonald's. People in Chicago - it's really well known in Chicago - for generations, by the way, because he's been doing this for almost 30 years - that there are certain McDonald's - I think the Rock 'N' Roll McDonald's that he used to go to was kind of vintage '50s themed. McDonald's is now gone, but he would cruise McDonald's near high schools and have someone from his team go up to a girl, you know, get her number, and she didn't have to be anything. She didn't have to have long hair or short hair, be light-skinned or dark-skinned, have a great body or a bad one. All she had to be was young.
And so we have lots of evidence of him cruising not only McDonald's but then also his old high school, Kenwood Academy, which was a kind of school that had a - was renowned for its excellent music program and choir. And sometimes as a guest, sometimes just as a drop-in, he would cruise girls at his high school, his old high school.
GROSS: It's kind of amazing that even after the infamous video in which he's not only barking commands and being physically abusive toward this, you know, young girl, he's urinating on her.
GROSS: And it's amazing that after this tape goes viral and after he's accused of creating child pornography and after he stands trial for it - granted, he's acquitted in the trial, but girls are still willing to go with him when there seems to be so much evidence that he mistreats the girls and women who he starts relationships with. What sense do you make of that?
HAMPTON: Well, that was one of the hard questions I had to pose to the survivors and particularly to their parents because they were grown-ups. You know, during the time that that tape was viral on the streets, they may have not lived in New York in a place where you could find it almost everywhere, but it was no secret. I mean, Dave Chappelle, of course, made a skit about it, a satirical skit. Aaron McGruder sent it up on "The Boondocks." Even "South Park" made - you know, talked about that tape. So it was really well known that this tape existed.
So I had to ask them, you know, kind of confrontationally, like, what I knew the viewing audience would ask, which is kind of why? I mean, you knew. Your daughter may not have known. She may have been 6 or 7 when this videotape came out in 2002. But you knew that this tape existed. Why did you still think that - and in those cases, both of those cases, those girls did want to be singers. Why did you think that he was an OK person to collaborate with and to have your daughter around? And they both gave me a confounding answer, which was he'd been found not guilty. But we knew he wasn't innocent.
GROSS: Let's talk briefly about how he was found not guilty. I mean, they showed the tape as evidence. I have not seen the tape. But from what I've read, it sounds like it looks like it's clearly him. But he denied it was him. The 14-year-old who's in the tape, the girl, her aunt Sparkle, who you mentioned before who was being mentored by R. Kelly and, you know, recording in his studio - like, the aunt said, this is definitely my niece. But the niece denied it. Members of her family denied that it was her. And, of course, R. Kelly denied that it was him.
But people were watching the tape. So what's your understanding of how the jury managed to find him not guilty?
HAMPTON: Well, there are several things. It's so hard to talk about this because I've come to care about this girl without having even met her. In fact, I was the person who kind of really convinced Sparkle. It took a lot of convincing to get Sparkle to come and be a part of the documentary. She's actually not spoken about the case or R. Kelly since she lost everything by testifying against him in this trial.
GROSS: By everything, you mean her family didn't talk to her for a decade. She lost her record label contract. She left the music industry. So her life was totally upended.
HAMPTON: And she threw it all away to testify. But to answer your first question - you know, how did this happen - that girl remained in R. Kelly's life throughout the trial. He kept her very close to him. In fact, Kitti Jones, you know, one of the revealing things in her interview is that eight years after the tape, a good four or five years after the trial, you know, Kitti Jones sees the girl from the tape at basketball practice with R. Kelly. It's shocking for her because she had just for the first time brought herself to watch the tape.
But, you know - so that was one thing. He kept the girl in his life. I'm sure that girl thought she was in a relationship as a 14 or 15-year-old with a 30-something-year-old man. From all accounts - and it's really hard to say this, and I'm sad to have to say this - I know Sparkle hates it - but it appears that he paid off her parents, which is just awful.
GROSS: Do you have evidence of that, or just you're saying it appears that way?
HAMPTON: Well, Jim DeRogatis has reported about it kind of extensively. And I definitely talked to Sparkle about it. You know, she thinks that either through work, through - her brother-in-law was a guitar player, a bass player, who still appears in credits on R. Kelly's albums years after the tape comes out. So in all of these ways, he managed to silence them. He also - his legal team had a strategy to delay the trial for almost six years so that, should she decide to testify, she wouldn't appear to be 14 at all.
The judge is an interesting factor in this story too. He disallowed the fact that R. Kelly had married Aaliyah, the fact that R. Kelly had been sued by other teenagers, among them Tiffany Hawkins. So he disallowed evidence of a pattern of R. Kelly's predation to be presented at trial. So all of these things - and particularly the missing, you know, kind of key witness, even though more than a dozen people came forward and identified her in her absence, including her gym coach, including her aunt Sparkle and her best friend.
So all of these people came and said, no, this is absolutely her. But she wasn't there. And this trial dragged on for six years. And then we have a juror in the docuseries who kind of sums it up when he says, I just didn't believe the witnesses. I didn't like the way they talked. I didn't like the way they dressed, which is very typical when it comes to sexual violence in our court system, women being kind of retried again, even as witnesses.
GROSS: I don't know if I'm being unfair here by bringing race into it. But this juror was an older white man who I'm sure was completely out of touch with popular culture or with the way young women talk or dress or anything.
HAMPTON: No. I mean, he was...
GROSS: I - he was basically saying that he was absolutely predisposed to not believe the young women who testified.
HAMPTON: You're not wrong when you say that race has everything to do with it. He was a Romanian immigrant. And, yes, we find that black girls, more than women - we find that most sexual violence survivors aren't believed. And black women are absolutely disbelieved, not just in the court system, sadly, but in our own communities.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is dream hampton, and she's the executive producer of the Lifetime docuseries "Surviving R. Kelly." And if you missed it the first time around, it's going to be shown again on Lifetime starting Monday, February 25. It's also streaming on the Lifetime website. We'll be right back after a short break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF GERALD CLAYTON'S "ENVISIONINGS")
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with dream hampton, the executive producer of the Lifetime docuseries "Surviving R. Kelly" about the allegations over decades that the R&B star sexually and physically abused women, including some in their early teens. A reminder to parents - parts of this interview may not be appropriate for young children.
During R. Kelly's trial on charges of creating child pornography - and the trial was in 2008 - teenage girls would surround the front of the courthouse cheering him on. One of those girls, Jerhonda, became one of his girls. You interview her for the series. She talks about how he confined her and physically abused her. Describe some of the things she tells you about her relationship with him. And she was - what? - 14? 15?
HAMPTON: She was 16. Sixteen.
GROSS: Sixteen. OK.
HAMPTON: Jerhonda came to his trial as a fan. His team, by the way, would bus in young fans to stand outside the courtroom to support him. But she was someone who, on her own, was skipping class and coming to the courthouse to - as a superfan. He spotted her at the courthouse. She has pictures of herself with him outside of the courthouse. He does what he always does, which is have someone from his team get her number.
And the next thing you know, she was lying to her mother and sneaking out to his house in the suburbs with her friend Dominique and attending his parties. She lost her virginity to him. She first lied about her age. And then before they had sex, told him the truth. And he said, according to her, that that was perfect, that he could train her. And he quickly began to control her movements.
You know, she talked about that friend, Dominique, that she had first come to the house with. She would sometimes be in the house at the same time with her for days. But they couldn't meet up because they're not allowed to leave the room unless he gives them permission. And they would kind of ask to go to the bathroom at the same time and plan through text to meet in a bathroom, but it never worked out.
He commanded and demanded that she have sex with people that either she was just meeting that day or had just met, you know, a few days ago. And he physically abused her until she finally left and confessed to her mom what had happened.
GROSS: And Jerhonda, who you've been describing, she left R. Kelly after he slapped and choked her. And then she turned over evidence to the Illinois Bureau of Investigation.
HAMPTON: That's right. That was something that a lot of their critics continue to say. Like, why didn't they go to the police? Why are they going to the media? And that confounds me, especially coming from black people. I don't - I really didn't know until I started reading these tweets directed at me and some of the survivors that we had some fantasy about there being some, you know, vice squad, you know, dedicated to kind of busting down doors for black girls and to save black girls.
We also have testimony that R. Kelly - from members of his team. We interviewed someone who had worked for him. We interviewed that person in shadows because they didn't want their identity revealed. But they talked to us about the Chicago Police Department giving R. Kelly a heads-up when one of the parents, for instance, had convinced the police to do a wellness check on their daughter.
At this point, she was over 18. You know, they couldn't really make a claim. But they begged the police to at least check on their daughter and make sure that she was OK. And someone in the Chicago Police Department - likely someone who worked security on their off-duty hours - called him and told him it was happening. And they got the studio ready and got the girls out of the studio before the police arrived.
GROSS: My guest is Dream Hampton, executive producer of the docuseries "Surviving R. Kelly," which will be shown again starting next Monday on Lifetime. We'll talk more after a break. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF DARRELL GRANT'S "FILS DU SOLEIL (FOR TONY WILLIAMS)")
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Let's get back to my interview with Dream Hampton, executive producer of the lifetime docuseries "Surviving R. Kelly," which will be shown again starting February 25. The series is about the allegations that the R&B star sexually and physically abused women, including some in their early teens. Some of these women and some of their parents are interviewed in the series as are music and culture critics, discussing why it took so long for fans and the music industry to take these allegations seriously.
How did you get some of the girls to talk with you? When I say girls, they were girls - a lot of them were girls when they were with R. Kelly. They're women now. But how did you convince them to talk with you knowing that they were violating their nondisclosure agreements with him? They were probably afraid that he would seek vengeance in some way.
I mean, he was very powerful in the music industry. He has a lot of money or had a lot of money and had a reputation for using it to silence people. What were you able to tell the women to make them more comfortable and, perhaps, to offer them protection from any harassment that might result from speaking on camera?
HAMPTON: I couldn't do the latter, you know? There is no protection from - and it's not just his fans. You know, there's this way in the black community. And it compounds the shame that black women have coming forward, by the way.
We know that this system is unfair to black people, not just black men but black people. We often rhetorically talk about black men being targeted and treated unfairly and abused in the criminal justice system. But it's black people. So we know that this - we know what this system does to us, right? So to turn to that system for justice is itself an oxymoron. But at the same time, we have a knee-jerk reaction to protect black men, always at the expense of black women.
People like bell hooks and black feminists, you know, before me have written about this and talked about this and done scholarship about this. But nothing has changed about this. I mean, Alice Walker experienced this when "Color Purple" (ph) came out. She retreated to the hills of northern California, she was abused so badly by black men and women, you know, her peers, other authors.
So this is something that we see generation after generation. And R. Kelly has a particular kind of love, which acts as a currency in the black community. He is singularly, like, an R&B artist. He makes black music for black people. He's had one or two crossover hits. And for some reason, hipsters thought "Trapped In The Closet" was hilarious. But for the most part, he has made black songs for black - and he has used that love as a cover.
GROSS: You talked to some of the parents of the young women who had been with R. Kelly. And the parents felt like, you know, my daughter is lost to this, like, cult leader. My daughter's been brainwashed. The parents couldn't reach the daughter, and the daughters weren't allowed to contact their parents. However, one of the young women, Dominique, you were able to talk to her mother. And you actually filmed her mother rescuing her daughter from R. Kelly. So how did that happen?
HAMPTON: We had planned to bring Michelle Kramer, who's Dominique's mom, out to Los Angeles to be interviewed in our studio, which is where everyone - all of our principals were interviewed. And she woke up the morning of the interview. She'd been up all night. And she says, I think I know where my daughter is because R. Kelly always stays in the same hotel chain. And I think that he's flown to Durham for a spot date for a one-off concert. And I think that my daughter might be in the hotel, and he may not be there.
And I'm not coming into the studio. I know y'all flew me out, but I'm not coming in. I'm going to this hotel chain to look for my daughter.
By the way, the daughter had appeared in this TMZ video a couple of days before. It was a video that R. Kelly's team had, you know, basically produced with TMZ to offer as evidence to the public that another of the girls, Joycelyn Savage, had freedom of movement because her parents, the Savages, are very vocal. They're the ones who make videotapes all the time and have, you know, been appealing to the public. And they have, you know, said that their daughter isn't allowed to go anywhere without R. Kelly and his people.
And R. Kelly's team arranged for her to be in Beverly Hills and for the TMZ cameras to just be there. This isn't a celebrity, which is why I know it's produced. It's not like Ariana Grande coming out of a store in Beverly Hills and a TMZ reporter just happening to be there. This was a girl that you would have to be looking for to know who she was. And Dominique was in that video.
So Michelle had seen her daughter a couple days before in Beverly Hills shopping with Joycelyn Savage on this TMZ video. So she refused to come into the studio, which we were frustrated about. I was in the studio waiting for her, waiting to interview her. But I also said, OK, let's film her. And we can't produce this moment. We can only follow her and do whatever it is she wants to do.
And what she did was, you know, went into the hotel and convinced the hotel manager to let her up to the room, talked her daughter, you know, into coming downstairs six hours later to meet her. And the hotel threatened to call the police on her, by the way. And then her daughter finally comes out. Much of it is just audio, you know. But you can hear Dominique say that this is the hardest thing she's ever had to do.
GROSS: Were you worried that R. Kelly, who you said was probably in Durham, N.C., at the time for a date - but that either Kelly or someone from his team would catch you and that it would make things even worse for Dominique, the girl whose mother was trying to get her out of the clutches of R. Kelly, or that, you know, it might result in something...
HAMPTON: For sure, yeah.
GROSS: ...Terrible against you, or a lawsuit against the film, or - I can think of any number of things that could have gone wrong.
HAMPTON: And I thought of all of those things. (Laughter) This went on for hours. It was a - it was more than a six-hour ordeal. Dominique, by the way - we had to say this in the docuseries - she went back to him. You know, Michelle Kramer got her daughter to Chicago. We flew them. And a few days later, Michelle Kramer says a black SUV showed up outside her door, and Dominique ran out and went back to R. Kelly.
That didn't last. She's now back home with her mother. And we know, and we have therapists on camera talking about, how many times it takes for a survivor or victim of domestic abuse or any kind of abuse to get out of that relationship. So it took Dominique more than one try, but she is home now with her mother.
GROSS: Let me reintroduce you here. If you're just joining us, my guest is dream hampton. She's the executive producer of the Lifetime TV series "Surviving R. Kelly," which includes interviews with women who say they were sexually, physically and emotionally abused by the R&B recording star. If you missed it the first time, it will be shown again on Lifetime starting Monday, February 25. It's also streaming on the Lifetime website. We'll be right back after a short break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF BEASTIE BOYS' "TRANSITIONS")
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with dream hampton, the executive producer of the Lifetime docuseries "Surviving R. Kelly" about the allegations over decades that the R&B star sexually and physically abused women, including some girls in their early teens. A reminder to parents - parts of this interview may not be appropriate for young children.
A lot of people who are sexual abusers were sexually abused when they were children. And apparently, R. Kelly is an example of that. In 2012, after R. Kelly had written a memoir, Tavis Smiley interviewed him on his show. And I want to play a short excerpt of that interview. So this is R. Kelly interviewed by Tavis Smiley.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
TAVIS SMILEY: At 8 or 9 years of age - you talk in the book about how exposed you were to sex. You saw it. There were adults who should not have been but were coming on to you even when you were a child. What'd that do to you to be exposed to sex at that early age?
R. KELLY: Well, like anything else when you're a child, whatever you're taught, it goes with you, from how to eat cereal with a spoon and a bowl with milk to walking. When you're a child, you don't really know. You only see. And you learn, and you try to figure it out. You're not supposed to be curious about sex because you're not supposed to see sex right now. You're supposed to be curious about the bowl, the spoon, the cereal, the milk.
I'm not going to throw any of my people, my family under a bus. But yes, I was molested from 7 on till maybe 13, 14 or something like that by people in my family. So, you know, sexually, it woke up my hormones a lot earlier than it - they were supposed to be awakened. It woke up my curiosity a lot earlier than it was supposed to be awakened.
GROSS: That's a very interesting clip, you know? And out of context of what we've come to know about R. Kelly, what he just said would lead to, like, a lot of, you know, empathy. Like, here's somebody who was abused as a child. They were kind of sexually educated long before they should have been, you know, starting at around age 7. And I'm wondering - you know, I know you've thought about these kinds of things a lot. How do we take that into account when we take the measure of R. Kelly and all the bad things he's alleged to have done to young women?
HAMPTON: First, I want to talk about this idea of him being sexually educated, right? And I know that you're not trying to use a euphemism, but that absolutely is one. And so did Tavis Smiley. He talked about R. Kelly being come on to, right? What R. Kelly was as a child was raped and molested. He uses the word molested, thank God. So he has some kind of understanding.
Another thing about that interview - he talks about not wanting to throw his family under the bus, which is, basically, what these women who've come forward are being accused of, which - what I'm being accused of, of somehow - I mean, something far more than throwing R. Kelly under the bus, you know, by speaking up about the abuse and the rape and the molestation. Like, this kind of silence only allows it to go on. It's so much more than throwing people under the bus. It's about accountability. It's about stopping it in our communities, naming it.
And I wish that when R. Kelly had married Aaliyah and that became public - and I'm sure it was a crisis for his team. Absolutely, when the tape came out, I wish that people - instead of trying to manage the optics of the situation, I wish they had dealt with what the situation was, what the problem was and demanded, stop making albums. Stop making hit records. Stop doing tours, and get the help that you need.
GROSS: And do you think that him saying that he was abused as a child is even more evidence of, like, why people in his life, professionally and personally, should have said, you need help?
HAMPTON: Absolutely. And those people knew that he was abused - many of them. There were Chicago-based people who knew that family members had been abusing him as a child. That's deep trauma that needs real healing. And I'm not saying that at 52, which is the age R. Kelly is right now, when he has two very young women living with him whose parents are looking for them, that there's some magical age when you are supposed to have a healing because many people don't heal their entire lifetimes.
I have childhood trauma that I'm still trying to heal. And I'm five years younger than R. Kelly. But I think that there were many times - and there has to be a moment when you then take responsibility. It's cliche to say, but almost all abusers have been abused. But not all people who have been abused become abusers. So there comes a time when R. Kelly's absolutely responsible for the harm that he's caused.
GROSS: I just want to say thank you for correcting me when I said that he was sexually educated at too young an age. That really came out all wrong. So thank you for...
HAMPTON: No, it's OK. The...
GROSS: ...Pointing out that's not the right language. I was trying to summon up the language that he used when he said, you know, like, he was, like, sexually turned on before his, like, body and mind were ready for it. I just couldn't remember the right word, so...
HAMPTON: No, but you see boys use it...
GROSS: I'm sorry I used that.
HAMPTON: It's OK. And I don't think that you were trying to diminish what happened to him. But you see them - you reflect - were reflecting back what he and Tavis Smiley - how they framed it. And you see men who were victims of sexual assault and rape as children use that kind of language all of the time. I've heard Chris Brown talk about his molestation. I've heard Lil Wayne talk about his molestation. And they talk about it in this way of just being awakened early as opposed to being abused and raped and molested.
GROSS: You've alluded to the fact that you experienced trauma as a child. Did making this movie kind of bring that back up again in a way that was emotionally difficult to deal with?
HAMPTON: I've written about it. I wrote an essay. It was an assignment. I was asked to write about audacity by Rebecca Walker, Alice's daughter. I ended up recalling and remembering fighting off, as a 12-year-old, three boys who were older, who pushed past my brother and into my home on a rainy night in Detroit.
For a long time, I didn't understand that - I didn't talk about it as a rape because I was able to fight them off. And I think that that unprocessed trauma was absolutely triggered by this process. It was very what people want to believe rape and sexual assault looks like, which is strangers kind of breaking into your home and attacking you, and not what it usually looks like, which is people that you know harming you and abusing you.
So in some ways, I think that I didn't consider my experience real in some ways, that - because they didn't actually rape me, they just tried. I mean, they really tried. They took my panties off. And I fought them. I remember feeling like I was the Tasmanian Devil because I used to watch cartoons back then and that if I just kept moving, that they wouldn't be able to. And eventually they left the house. Maybe it went on for 10 or 15 minutes. And they were prosecuted. I didn't have to go to court. I was 12. And I don't think I knew how to process that then.
And then later as an adult, learning the kind of spectrum of trauma and violence that women experience, I don't know that I considered mine real enough or bad enough to be on that spectrum. And I'm obviously wrong about that.
GROSS: So your series is in part about something you've already touched on. Your series is in part about how the R. Kelly story played out in the black community and why so many people, including prominent people in the black community, continued not only to listen to him but to support him, to stand by him and how - you know, how he was able to go from his trial to performing at a church with a lot of civil rights leaders there, about how after the videotape - the infamous videotape was bootlegged and every - you know, so many people were watching it, he performed at the Olympics, which isn't...
HAMPTON: Yeah, right?
GROSS: That's not on the black community, that part (laughter), the Olympics part.
HAMPTON: No, that was in Utah.
GROSS: So judging from what you said a little bit earlier, do you think that so many people in the black community are used to standing up for black men who have been abused or mistreated in one form or another, including being, you know, mistreated by police or even being, like, killed by police or being, you know, wrongly convicted and imprisoned or being given a much larger prison sentence than, you know, somebody who is white and middle-class would have been given - do you think that because of all of that, that some people just kind of rallied around the black man and forgot about the black girls?
HAMPTON: Well, yeah, absolutely. And that's happened again and again. I think that black people know what it is to be over-policed. And I don't know that we're going to find justice by turning to that system. This is also a system that doesn't treat sexual survivors or victims of gender and sexual violence fairly regardless of race. So those things combined create a not-guilty verdict for him. So that not-guilty verdict gives RCA and Jive Records cover to continue doing business with him, and that includes individuals at the label who I've begged to come on camera and they wouldn't, even more so than the celebs who got the headlines - but even someone like Jay-Z, who I asked to be in the doc.
And of course Jay-Z hardly says anything about anything. I know because I'm his friend, and I remember when he went on tour with R. Kelly that he was contractually obligated after R. Kelly was found not guilty to promote their album "Best Of Both Worlds" together. That tour fell apart for reasons not unrelated to who R. Kelly is. But I wanted him to come on camera and say that. And he could have said whether or not he regretted it.
You know, someone like Erykah Badu I invited on because she at the Soul Train Award (ph) talked about him as doing more for black people than anyone else. And I wanted to know if that anyone else included - I don't know - Harriet Tubman or Frederick Douglass. I don't know what the heck she meant when she said that. So I wanted her to clarify that. I would have just asked her that question. We don't have a lot of - we only have John Legend. But this was never about celebs talking about R. Kelly. This was always about centering the women. But yeah, there's a eco system. There's a record industry that continue to do business with him.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Dream Hampton, and she's the executive producer of the Lifetime docuseries "Surviving R. Kelly." We'll be right back after a short break. This is FRESH AIR.
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GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. And if you're just joining us, my guest is Dream Hampton, executive producer of the Lifetime TV series "Surviving R. Kelly," which includes interviews with women who say they were sexually, physically and emotionally abused by the R&B recording star.
What kind of security do you have or have you needed since you started working on "Surviving R. Kelly" and since the series has actually been shown on Lifetime?
HAMPTON: Yeah. I've needed cybersecurity, which I didn't know was a thing, which involves scrubbing - my address was shared online. I've had the police come to me and talk about that. I have had a risk assessment done by security professionals who usually work with people like the Southern Poverty Law Center and have to tell people, all these white power groups are targeting you. And my risk assessment - my greatest risk is from random black men, which breaks my heart. I have to move. And I've had security, at times, over the past couple of weeks.
GROSS: What have some of the ripple effects been of this series in terms of opening new investigations into R. Kelly?
HAMPTON: Yeah. In Chicago, newly elected prosecutor District Attorney Kim Foxx, who self-IDed as a survivor of sexual violence, asked people to come forward. And I hope that that happens. I talked to so many women in Chicago who wouldn't be on camera but who have survived R. Kelly. And in Georgia, there was a similar call for people to come forward. And I hope that that results in a case. We also have Sony Music, who dropped him. And we have had venue after venue and radio station after radio station say that they are no longer going to play his music.
At the same time, we've seen 5 million streams of his music happen directly after the docuseries aired. And we saw two of his songs re-chart, so it's a both and.
GROSS: So I'm thinking for anybody listening now who's thinking, Dream Hampton, she doesn't like black men. She's not taking their side. I just want to mention that on the day - February 25, which is a Monday - that your "Surviving R. Kelly" series starts to be shown again on Lifetime that you also have a documentary that will be shown on HBO, in which you go to a prison in Indiana and work with 11 of the men incarcerated there, directing a movie about life inside.
And I might be presuming here, but I'm assuming that a lot of men whose lives you're documenting are African-American. And you're talking about mass incarceration. I'm just assuming all this - and that...
GROSS: You're talking about the impact of mass incarceration on the lives of individuals.
HAMPTON: Absolutely. And I've spent so much of my life as an activist advocating for black people, which always includes black men. These are men who have absolutely harmed people, including women. And you're right. Most of them are black, just like inside any prison. And they are dealing with what it means to own the harm that they've caused and what it means to try to heal inside a place that's absolutely not built for rehabilitation. I don't think that prison is or should be a place where one rehabilitates. So it's about restorative justice.
And I don't want to have to, like, prove and bring out my resume of activism. It's not performative for me in that way. It is always something that is deep inside me that is unsettled and can't sit still. And I hate that black women are required to, like, pull out all of their receipts and their love for black men just to advocate for black women. It should be enough to say that I love black women who, turns out, are black people.
GROSS: Your first name, Dream, that comes from Martin Luther King's speech "I Have A Dream." That's why you were named Dream.
HAMPTON: Yeah (laughter). How'd you know that?
GROSS: That is a lot to live up to.
GROSS: Your parents put some intense pressure on you.
HAMPTON: Yeah. Dr. King gave that speech in Detroit on Woodward Avenue before he did it in D.C. He test ran it in Detroit. So my dad named me after that speech, yes. I learned late in life (laughter) in my 30s. I don't know why I hadn't asked before then. I gave my daughter a very different name, so (laughter) - but yeah, that's my name. He gave it to me.
GROSS: Well, Dream Hampton, thank you so much for talking with us. Thank you for the series, and be well.
HAMPTON: Thank you, Terry.
GROSS: Dream Hampton is the executive producer of the Lifetime docuseries "Surviving R. Kelly," which will be shown again beginning next Monday. It's also available for streaming on the Lifetime website.
Tomorrow on FRESH AIR, my guest will be New Yorker staff writer Jeffrey Toobin. His latest article is about Roger Stone, who's been indicted in the Mueller investigation, and conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi - two men, Toobin says, have influenced Trump's worldview and whose cases will help determine the outcome of the clash between the special counsel and the president. I hope you'll join us.
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GROSS: FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. Our associate producer for digital media is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Roberta Shorrock directs the show. I'm Terry Gross.
(SOUNDBITE OF AARON GOLDBERG'S "ISN'T THIS MY SOUND AROUND ME") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.