Lifetime returns to R. Kelly with a new powerful series

In this June 6, 2019, file photo, musician R. Kelly leaves the Leighton Criminal Court building in Chicago. (AP)

NEW YORK (AP) — Few TV documentary series can boast having a more powerful real world impact than “Surviving R. Kelly.”

Though allegations of sexual abuse against minors followed R&B superstar R. Kelly for years, it was a six-part series aired by Lifetime last January featuring testimonials by alleged survivors that sparked new attention from authorities.

A year later, Lifetime is readying a follow-up series, “ Surviving R. Kelly Part II: The Reckoning, ” with one major difference: this time, R. Kelly will be behind bars when it airs.

Brie Miranda Bryant, senior vice president of unscripted development at Lifetime, said the new series takes a wider and deeper look at some of the issues the first one raised. The first had 54 interviews; the follow-up has almost 70.

“It’s not really about R. Kelly. It’s about sexual violence against women in general and how we change that dialogue,” she said.

“Surviving R. Kelly Part II: The Reckoning” will premiere Thursday on Lifetime. The six-hour series will run for two hours a night for three consecutive nights, concluding Saturday.

The new series includes interviews with two alleged survivors who haven’t spoken out publicly before and includes Tiffany Hawkins, the first alleged survivor who filed sexual charges. Other new voices include music executive Damon Dash, Beyoncé’s father Mathew Knowles, lawyer Gloria Allred and Illinois prosecutor Kimberly M. Foxx.

One new voice is Jimmy Maynes, a veteran artist manager and former Jive Record executive who represents artists including Salt-N-Pepa. That groundbreaking hip-hop group toured with R. Kelly and Maynes was initially approached by the documentary makers about what he witnessed on the road.

“I had not physically seen R. Kelly with any underage children, however I did feel like there was a high probability that things had been going on behind closed doors that I would not have approved of,” Maynes said.

While not a direct witness, Maynes does talk about being asked by Jive Records in 2002 to go to Chicago and buy up all the VHS and DVDs he could find that allegedly showed R. Kelly engaging in sexual acts with an underage girl. He said he later confronted the superstar, who claimed the man in the video was his twin brother. He has no twin.

Maynes also offers a critical look at the music industry, which he argues creates a culture that gives superstars like R. Kelly unquestioned authority. In an interview with The Associated Press, he connected R. Kelly to other self-destructive superstars like Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston and Prince.

“We don’t teach artists how to deal with fame. We teach them how to be famous. We teach them how to spend famous. We teach them how to be red carpet famous. We teach them how to make famous videos. We teach them how to be famous. We don’t teach them what it’s like to be famous,” said Maynes.

He hopes the music industry learns to reform itself and not surround its stars with enablers. “R. Kelly was responsible for keeping the lights on at the label. There’s a particular amount of manipulation that goes with that territory. So I think the music industry should hold some responsibility,” he said.

An estimated 26 million people saw all or some of the original Lifetime documentary series that brought together dozens of people who accused the singer of sexual misconduct and kidnapping.

The series faced backlash and finger-pointing. Some blamed the music industry. Some blamed the media and law enforcement for ignoring the alleged conduct because the victims were black women. Some blamed the parents of the alleged victims for not doing enough.

“It just felt like a ton of finger-pointing without real answers. We wanted to be able to answer those questions as best as possible,” Bryant said.

Maynes, who is well aware that he risks industry pushback by coming forward, said he did so for the truth to be heard: “The only victims are these young kids. Those are the only victims. The parents are not victims. The industry is not a victim.”

Kelly, 52, is currently in jail, scheduled to stand trial in Cook County in September, then in federal court in Chicago in April and again in federal court in New York the next month.

Kelly has denied all the allegations related to sexual assault with minors, but the #MuteRKelly movement has damaged his financial stability. He did himself few favors when he portrayed himself as a victim in a combative interview with Gayle King in which he pounded his chest and yelled into the camera.

Bryant said the indictments against R. Kelly were never the goal of the series. She said some alleged survivors want restorative justice, some want apologies. “Justice looks like a lot of different things for a lot of people,” she said.

“For Lifetime, in general, and my colleagues, it’s about continuing to be a platform for women’s stories, period, and that, to us, that is justice.”