Apr 3rd, 2019, 11:48 AM

The R. Kelly and Michael Jackson Allegations

By Moumi Camara
the Jackson 5 group. Image credit: Michael Jackson anthology
The stories of people who claim they have suffered at the hands of singers R. Kelly and Michael Jackson are in the spotlight.

*Trigger warning: This article contains sensitive information involving sexual assault that some might find disturbing. Reader discretion is advised.


In the rise of the #Metoo movement, there have been growing allegations against those who were once seen as untouchable. For over two decades, famed artist Robert Kelly, known as R. Kelly, and Michael Jackson, have been facing accusations of sexual abuse and child molestation. Two recent documentaries have been released, Surviving R. Kelly and Leaving Neverland, with testimonies from the victims who share their accounts with the stars in graphic detail.

The six-part documentary series on Lifetime, Surviving R. Kelly, illuminates the allegations made against R. Kelly over the timeline of his 30-year career. The many women interviewed share testimonies of being approached by him when they were extremely underaged, some as young 14 years old.

In his early 20s, R. Kelly began going to local high schools and picking up girls. He would invite the girls, who were aspiring singers or fans of his, back to his mansion promising them help with their singing careers and guidance. The women described their relationship with R. Kelly as controlling and abusive, their lives restricted by the rules he set. They were kept away from their families, would have to ask permission for anything they do, and were told to engage in sexual activities with him and with one another. Punishment for not following the rules would result in physical abuse, being starved, and being locked away.

R. Kelly performing on tour in April 2006. Image Credit: Nicholas Ballasy

The documentary also touches on his marriage to late singer Aaliyah, whom he first met when she was 12 years old. In 1994, R. Kelly and Aaliyah married, she was 15 years old but was recorded as having been 18 because of falsified documents. A year later their marriage was annulled.

R.Kelly was accused of having sex with a teenager in 1996, and again in 2001, but both lawsuits were settled. In 2002, a video was sent to Mr. DeRogatis at The Chicago Sun-Times, with footage of R. Kelly having sex with an underaged girl and urinating in her mouth. The footage was investigated by the Chicago police and a year later, R. Kelly was indicted for child pornography by a grand jury in Chicago. R. Kelly who denies being the person on the tape was found not guilty by the jury in the 2008 trial.

In an explosive interview with journalist Gayle King, R. Kelly flew into a rage in response to the allegations made against him, proclaiming, "Believe me, man! This is not me! They lying on me! They're lying on me! I'm cool, bro." In the exclusive interview, he was adamant about his innocence and denied all allegations of sexual or physical abuse made by these women in the Surviving R. Kelly documentary. "See the thing is that I'm not a controlling person. It's just that I am in control of my household. Like, say, if you live with me, I consider myself the king of the castle and you're the queen of the castle," R. Kelly told King. On 25 April 2019, R. Kelly lost a civil court case by default after failing to respond to a legal case brought by a woman who accused him of sexual abuse.

Singer Aaliyah in Berlin in 2000. Image credit: Mika Vaisanen

The most recent documentary, Leaving Neverland, is a two-part expose on the testimonies from Wade Robson and James Safechuck, two men who were allegedly abused by Michael Jackson. Like the victims of Surviving R. Kelly, they’ve been scrutinized by fans of the artist who claim they are lying, or in pursuit of money.

Both men met Michael Jackson in the mid-80s. Robson met Jackson at the age of five, after winning a dance competition. He claims the abuse didn’t start until two years later after Jackson befriended his family and they moved to Los Angeles, California. Safechuck and Jackson met after he was cast in a Pepsi commercial. His abuse started when he was 10.

They both describe their experiences at Neverland through sobering interviews. The men begin by explaining their original feeling of awe towards Jackson's fame and luxurious lifestyle, but as the interviews continue, they unravel into details of the sexual abuse they suffered while there. Safechuck and Robson were treated to expensive gifts and trips, and they were made to feel special. However, in exchange, Jackson forbade them from telling anyone else about their relations and convinced the boys that their parents, and especially women, were evil.

The production team of the documentary is now facing a lawsuit made by Micheal Jackson's estate. They are seeking $100 million in defamation from HBO. In order to suppress and discredit the documentary, the estate released a two hour documentary of its own on the Jackson's official YouTube channelLive in Bucharest (The Dangerous Tour), from Jackson’s 1992 Dangerous tour. The Jackson estate also released Jackson's most famed 1988 concert at Wembley Stadium in London, the same day and time as the release of the second part of Leaving Neverland. 

Entertainment attorney John Branca critiqued the Leaving Neverland documentary by calling it one-sided and solely motivated by money. The Jackson estate who insists the artist never molested anyone slams filmmakers for never interviewing any members of the Jackson family. 

Michael Jackson with fans and James Safechuck in February 1988. Image credit: Alan Light 

These types of allegations both on celebrities and in general society with people around children seem to be surfacing more and more. When these allegations come to light, people tend not to believe the victims.

“People have a soft spot for that celebrity, they don't want to believe that it's true because they’ve probably influenced that person's life in a big way,” said Ali Benzerara, a junior at AUP  who shared his thoughts with me on the subject. Some viewers of Leaving Neverland argued that the parents of the two victims are also to blame. Singer Barbara Streisand, told the Times UK, "I blame, I guess, the parents, who would allow their children to sleep with him." Streisand also drew criticism of the documentary, saying, “His sexual needs were his sexual needs, coming from whatever childhood he has or whatever DNA he has.” Her remarks were quickly criticized on social media, even the director of Leaving Neverland commented saying "His sexual needs were his sexual needs’ – is pedophilia tolerated in parts of the entertainment industry?”

At the end of Leaving Neverland, Safechuck explains how frequently music and art supersede the artist and excuse their behavior. “People have an image of what a pedophile is. People imagine pedophiles to be like 50 or 60 or more, which is not the case” explained Yann Louis who works in student development at AUP.

Joey Bishop and the Jackson 5 in June 1976. Image credit: CBS Television

In 2017 a protest under the hashtag #MuteKelly began growing on social media, demanding streaming services to remove his music and other artists under the same scrutiny off of their platforms. In 2018, Spotify announced that they would remove R. Kelly from their playlists although they would allow his music to remain on the platform.

“People think his music is great, so he's great,” says Safechuck in regards to Michael Jackson. While Abigail Wright, a freshman at AUP agrees both artists have great music, she believes, “If my sacrifice is that I don’t get to listen to Michael Jackson and R. Kelly for the sake of a victims voice being heard, then it's a sacrifice I’m willing to make.” While many feel that artists who have been accused of sexual abuse should have privileges and platforms removed, others stand by the artist in their work and music

Although music to some is nothing but a tune to fill the silence, for some it breathes hope, happiness and can truly be intimate. One of the advantages of social media is the ability for musicians to become more familiar with their fans; they have been our friends, inspiration, and confidants. How undeniable cultural shaper's, like R. Kelly and Micheal Jackson, art is treated after being accused of heinous crimes is a complex conversation that society has been forced to have more often than ever before.