Was the ‘Surviving R. Kelly’ production a hotbed of racism?
When Lifetime dropped Surviving R. Kelly back in January 2019, it was an instant hit for its take on the various allegations against the rapper. Though Kelly denied all the accusations, he was arrested a month later on ten charges of sexual assault. The success of Surviving R. Kelly and the following arrest of Kelly led to another season, subtitled Part 2: The Reckoning, to premiere in 2020.
But new allegations about Surviving R. Kelly are coming to light implying the show’s white producers disregarded the notes of their black editors. Shared by The Hollywood Reporter, the majority of the original editing team (which was mostly black) resigned after their notes on the original cut of Surviving R. Kelly Part 2: The Reckoning were ignored.
Focusing on the wrong parts
According to the THR report, the editors presented the first cut of the show to executive producer Joel Karsberg, who came back with significant notes. Specifically, Karsberg opined that Surviving R. Kelly’s editors weren’t focusing enough on Kelly’s celebrity status and rise to fame.
Karsberg also wanted more of Kelly cut in between survivor interviews because “the audience might stop paying attention to the series without interruptions.”
The editors pushed back on the notes, saying they implied the producer wants the show to focus more on R. Kelly’s career & success, rather than the victims’ stories. They also warned the producer doing such would sensationalize the show, and disregard the black community & survivors.
No role, no credit
Since their notes were being ignored, five editors and one assistant story editor all resigned from Surviving R. Kelly, asking not to be credited for their work. However, some had a significant portion of their work featured in the show, and asked to have their names put back on the project. Those who asked for credit as editors are only credited on some streaming platforms, but not all.
What about awards?
While most of the editors spoke out in regards to the Black Lives Matter movement and giving equal opportunities in Hollywood, their statement was also timed perfectly to coincide with the Peabody Awards.
Surviving R. Kelly won the Peabody Award for Best Documentary in 2020, yet the original editors weren’t even acknowledged. Lifetime claims that, since the editors didn’t ask for credit until after Surviving R. Kelly was submitted for award consideration, their names didn’t transfer over to the Peabody nomination and win.
While researching information for the report, THR inquired into why the editors’ names weren’t on the Peabody Awards website. Soon afterward, the website was updated with the editors’ names.
Missing the point
When speaking with THR, editor Stephanie Filo questioned why the editing team’s voices were sidelined. “When dealing with race-specific topics, there is so much nuance and sensitivity that is needed on shows like this. Why is the response to what happened to the original team to gaslight those involved and just pretend their experiences weren’t valid?”
Karsberg did not respond to the claims in the report, but Lifetime Executive Producer Brie Miranda Bryant did. She claimed Karsberg’s notes also included her own thoughts on the cut; according to her, the black perspective was being considered in the cut Karsberg’s notes was trying to create. But the editors were unaware Bryant’s thoughts were included in the notes.
Surviving R. Kelly Executive Producer dream hampton stood by the editors, however. In her statement to THR, hampton mused:
“The worst part about thinking about these larger issues, like sidelining Black editors on a project this sensitive, is that it’s doubtful the people who need to will take an honest look at this. Instead, they focus on personality ‘problems’ and hierarchical protocols rather than the real issues.”
Hampton also stated she will happily hire any of the editors on her next project once it hits post-production.