Surviving R. Kelly executive producer dream hampton has been at war with R. Kelly and the community that has protected him in the hellstorm of a reckoning that's come since the premiere of her tell-all documentary about Kelly's alleged abuse of women (many of them underage) stemming from the 90s.
In the wake of the film, artists like Lady Gaga, Chance the Rapper, and Celine Dion have started pulling their collaborations with Kelly off of streaming services and last week it was reported that the singer split with his record label Sony. Hampton has been relentless in calling out by name those she believes enabled him or continue to enable him, including celebrities that she thinks were too nervous to talk with her for the documentary like Jay-Z, Mary J. Blige, Questlove, Dave Chappelle, and Erykah Badu.
In the past 24 hours hampton has had two viral twitter spats with actress Taraji P. Henson and singer Erykah Badu over remarks they made about Kelly. But this exchange stood apart from the rest because, in the process, she highlighted that women of her generation (all three are in their late 40s) hold a level of responsibility for the years Kelly evaded any serious questioning into his actions.
Henson provoked a response from hampton Tuesday after posting a controversial Instagram story where she seemed to insinuate than Kelly was being treated more harshly than Harvey Weinstein. In the video, Henson pulls up thousands of Instagram posts under the #MuteRKelly hashtag, then pulls up just one she is able to find bysearching the #MuteWeinstein tag, following the video with a “hmmm” and a thinking face emoji. Viewers and hampton were quick to point out that Weinstein is facing criminal charges and will be the subject of upcoming documentaries soon enough. Though Henson clarified that she believes Kelly “is guilty and wrong and should be muted,” hampton wasted no time saying she believes Henson doesn’t “really care about Weinstein, you just want silence around R. Kelly.” But more importantly, hampton added, “Taraji, like me, is from the generation whose job it was to deal with R. Kelly 20 years ago. We didn’t and countless girls were harmed because of our inaction. So I made #SurvivingRKelly.”
That powerful response echoes the cultural shift that has proven evident in the wake of the #MeToo era, and how different generations of women of all races and ethnicities view and respond to allegations of predatory sexual behavior and assault. The responses from some white women around the Brett Kavanaugh hearings, for example, showed not just a culture of victim shaming or all-out refusing to believe accusers, but even shrugging off sexual harassment and assault as commonplace in those days. A sort of, that's just how it was, response. In R Kelly’s case, that matter is complicated by the history of black women feeling the need to protect problematic and even dangerous black men because our society has a long and ongoing history of brutally discriminating and perpetuating violence against them, and are aware of racist false accusations of rape black men have also historically dealt with. That old-school culture of black women showing sympathy for black men also surfaced in the controversial statements 47-year-old singer Erykah Badu made.
Badu talked about “putting up a prayer” for R. Kelly during her Saturday concert and told her unhappy fans that their instinct to dismiss him is “not unconditional love.” She later clarified and reiterated that sentiment, saying, “I love you [presumably Kelly]. Unconditionally. That doesn’t mean I support your poor choices. I want healing for you and anyone you have hurt as a result of you being hurt.” That alludes to Kelly's own history being abused and sexually molested.
Badu, who has expressed similar sentiments about controversial figures like XXXTentacion and Bill Cosby before, also denied Tuesday that she was ever contacted by hampton’s team to participate in the documentary, demanding an apology from hampton for saying she did. Hampton maintained they did reach out and scoffed at Badu’s request, saying she’d welcome an apology from Badu for her alleged statement that R. Kelly “did more for black people than anyone,” before concluding, “my generation might be the worst ever.”
Hampton’s back-to-back spats is an important moment in the Kelly fallout. Culture journalists have already had their arguments about whether they failed or didn’t fail to take Kelly’s accusers seriously in the 90s and 00s. But this discourse has brought the attention back to a generation of older women, especially black women, and where they fall in a culture that is standing up in force against abusive men and the systems that protect them.
Hampton's blunt comments laid bare a dilemma her generation needs to turn inward to ask themselves: If it's true that they have in some way contributed to the culture that enabled R. Kelly to flourish, what can they do to address and rectify that now? For hampton, that’s been truly getting on the battlefield alongside Kelly's accusers and taking all those who stand in her way to task. But for others who are only now learning about the harrowing stories, they’ll be answering that question for themselves in years to come.
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