Venkata: Indictment (Remix)

R. Kelly’s explosive interview was three weeks ago. It proves that sex crimes never lose importance.

by Uma Venkata

On March 6, Gayle King interviewed R&B singer R. Kelly for his first public interview after his arrest two weeks prior for 10 charges of criminal sexual abuse. Kelly has been under scrutiny for sexual crime for decades. He has had an alleged habit of soliciting and using underage girls for sex, and his entourage allegedly had a habit of assisting him. 

When Kelly was 24 years old in 1991, he allegedly had sex with a 15-year-old and 16-year-old on many occasions. The younger, Tiffany Hawkins, sued in 1996 and settled for 2.5 percent of the damages. In 1994, he married the late singer Aaliyah when she was 15 years old and he was 27 years old, and the marriage was annulled when the public found out. In 2002, Kelly was formally charged with 21 counts of child pornography in Chicago, but was later acquitted of all charges.The chart performance of “Ignition (Remix)” did just fine.

Lifetime produced a six-hour docuseries that included over 50 interviews with Kelly’s former collaborators and — more importantly — victims. It revealed the picture of a man who maintained a sympathetic public image, but privately, was allegedly a pathological controller. 

King interviewed Kelly’s two current girlfriends, Azriel Clary and Jocelyn Savage, ages 21 and 23, who claimed their parents are the extorters and Kelly is the protector. Bear in mind that Kelly is 52. Even if you could be unconvinced by the age differences, I’m not sure if you could name a fine, upstanding citizen with two live-in girlfriends.

These last two paragraphs are by no means an exhaustive list of Kelly’s alleged exploits. Feel free to check out more about his affinity for vulnerable young women. The public’s role now is to let the legal system do what it is meant to do. That leaves the rest of us with an ethical question not a legal question.

Kelly’s “Trapped in the Closet” might be one of the best (and funniest) applications of musical theater I’ve ever seen, but it’s still the product of a man who I have every reason to believe did true evil. This begs the not-quite age-old question: what can you condone when the art is good but the artist is bad? A solution is easier for the kind of art that fits in a museum, as you should make their abuses of people and power as clear as the title of the piece.

The other issue is that Kelly is not the extent of sexual abuse and exploitation of girls, as I’m sure every reader knows. Kelly’s home community of Chicago rallied around him for decades, deflecting and distracting from allegations of crime or immorality. This is by no means unheard of — just look at Whitey Bulger and his Southie home in Boston. Maybe the community-wide see-nothing, say-nothing mentality is just a slightly more conscious version of the blind eye we all collectively turn to red flags everywhere. 

Fortunately, there is movement to do something about it. The Department of Homeland Security issued guidelines for hotels and motels on what to do if they suspect human or sex trafficking, for which the hospitality industry is overwhelmingly a haven.

Famous, shiny people have always had a long leash, while others sneak under the radar. All their victims matter.