Who threatened the theater screening ‘Surviving R. Kelly’?
Rapper, singer, producer, and veritable industry legend Robert “R.” Kelly spent the latter years of his career fending off allegations of inappropriate and abusive behavior, including sexual assault, abuses of minors, and even child pornography.
Spending the past year in jail after an indictment hearing in 2019, it was no surprise a figure with such notoriety would dominate the spotlight – including the creation of a documentary special entitled Surviving R. Kelly.
As volatile as the charges surrounding R. Kelly had become, so too became the drive to protect what remained of his reputation. Gaining popularity, Surviving R. Kelly entered its second season, prompting massive media coverage and interest to take the documentary onto the big-screen – a decision not without its own dangers.
The rise and fall of R. Kelly
Kelly hasn’t been without controversy since as early as 1994 when he was engaged to then-fifteen-year old Aaliyah in a secret wedding ceremony in Chicago. The early 00s were plagues by an onslaught of lawsuits against Kelly – charges ranging from emotional damages and sexual abuse from lovers and staffers alike.
Between 2002 & 2004, Kelly was also subject to several lawsuits across multiple states all related to the creation and distribution of child pornography. Though cases were repeatedly dropped due to scrutinized evidence, Kelly returned to making music between trials, remaining a focus of authorities and outspoken critics of his actions.
Beginning in 2017, members of Kelly’s “inner circle” and various victims claiming rapes, coercion, and assaults, bombarded the press with allegations against the singer. The “#MuteRKelly” campaign in 2018 even resulted in the rapper being dropped by his production company, RCA – but Kelly continued to perform and deny misconduct.
Surviving R. Kelly: A turning point
Everything changed when Lifetime released Surviving R. Kelly in 2019, the six-episode documentary offering never-before-seen interviews and victim accounts of the sexual crimes – including an interview with Kelly’s former tour manager Demetrius Smith, who stated, “This is what he wanted and so this is what we were supposed to give him.”
Waves of allegations finally swept the “King of R&B” off his throne in 2019, and R. Kelly faced multiple charges related to his crimes on both state and federal levels. Suddenly the rapper’s tours were cancelled, and celebrity lawyers flocked to represent the various victims.
Kelly and his posse faced charges associated with sex trafficking and pornography of underage girls. What really took the trial into a media frenzy was when Kelly and close associates were then accused of charges involving witness tampering, intimidation, and racketeering – desperate attempts to reclaim a tarnishing image.
This time last year, R.Kelly was denied bail and remains in jail as more evidence and charges pile against him. Surviving R. Kelly also released a second season, receiving a mix of acclaim for providing voice to victim stories, and some criticism for dramatized exploitation of those same victims.
Theaters threatened over documentary screening
Not surprising was the lashback the series faced from both R. Kelly and his close associates, still facing punishment for their crimes of trying to silence witnesses and the abused. When movie theaters jumped at the opportunity to ride out the wave of Surviving R. Kelly’s success, they too became a focus of threats.
This past week, former manager to R. Kelly, Donnell Russell, was charged with threatening a Manhattan theater for its decision to hold a screening of Surviving R. Kelly. Reportedly, Russell is being charged on two counts of threatened physical violence by the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Southern District of New York.
After making failed legal attempts to stop the screening, Russell is alleged to have “called the theater and told an employee an armed individual would open fire if the screening was held,” according to The Hollywood Reporter – this wasn’t the first instance of Russell threatening violence.
Threats, lies, and videotapes
In 2018, the forty-five-year old made a similar call to Neuehouse in NYC, also threatening a shooting if they went ahead with a screening of Surviving R. Kelly. His actions caused the vent to cease proceedings – a temporary victory for the accused.
Considering the 2018 screening was to be attended by several of the victims shown in the documentary, authorities considered his actions aligned with attempting to threaten and silence accusers – an attempt acting U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss denounced.
Facing up to five years in prison for each current charge, Russell is waiting to begin his court appearances for the various documented threats. Surviving R. Kelly may recall harrowing acts the rapper committed, but some of its biggest surprises are the fallout and effects of all involved – including the alleged atrocities of his own associates.