The Entertainment Industry has a profound influence over African-American culture; it dictates our fashion trends and even our political views. For decades, many have feared being blackballed for speaking out against the negative aspects of the industry; however, informative content is on the rise, due to the impact of social media. Fans now crave being as close to their favorite celebrity as possible; but also beginning to hold those celebrities accountable for their actions more than ever. As celebrities become more and more accessible, consumers find that with the good, also comes the bad.
“Surviving R. Kelly” debuted on Lifetime as “six-part documentary series” in January 2019, according to mylifetime.com. Executive Producer, Tamra Simmons, and Executive Producer/Show Runner, Dream Hampton are the Fearless talents behind the ground-breaking doc; however, Simmons says, “It truly took a team.”
Simmons’ role as Executive Producer allowed her to create, direct and lead the project. She was specifically responsive for working with the survivors in an effort to get them to open up to “create an impactful documentary,” says Simmons.
The purpose behind the production wasn’t to raise the suspicion of authorities. Rumors have loomed for years regarding his transgressions. Simmons says, “It wasn’t about R. Kelly; he happened to be the subject matter. Everyone I spoke to hadn’t had therapy or even told their family members about their abuse. Some of the women have children who didn’t know. Some of the women harbored this information for five… 10… 15 years, and had to sit down and say ‘This happened to me, and I’m going public.” She continues, “Getting the message out there, that black women’s voices do matter, and we will not be silenced anymore… that was the purpose.”
Abuse in the Black Community, is and always has been downplayed. Simmons sells it the “hush factor.” She says, “when we experience abuse, we aren’t supposed to talk about it.” If it weren’t for the release of “Surviving R. Kelly,” Black women’ s voices would still be silenced.
We watch our counterparts speak up, specifically aligning with the “Me Too” movement; however, Simmons says “the black community wouldn’t be able to hear this happens to us… black women, our sisters, nieces, cousins… and even our nephews; not just women, but men as well. This happens in our community!”
“Surviving R. Kelly” opened the door for anyone who has ever been abused before to hear and understand that what happened to them was and is never okay. Simmons hoped to show victims that they’re not the only one who has been abused and they shouldn’t be ashamed. Unfortunately, people make excuses and a ton of victim shaming and victim blaming occurs, particular on social media. “What were you doing? What were you wearing? Why were you there? You wanted his money,” critics say. It is time to enlighten the world that “famous people, too, seek out for these types of people to prey on,” says Simmons.
Today, some R. Kelly supporters still choose to have a “blind eye and deaf ear,” as Simmons says. They admire his music and don’t want to see or hear anything off putting about the artist; however Simmons can quite come to grips either why his fans don’t have questions. She says, “even if you had a close friend, who you’ve known all your life, who was accused of such allegations, wouldn’t you at least pray to God for their innocence?” For this situation in particular, Simmons was able to show a system was set in place. She says, “R. Kelly is good at masking who he is, depending on who you are.”
Thankfully, she’s never been in a position where she was an abused woman; however, Simmons has a young daughter and if the docu-series never made it to Lifetime, she says, “It was her mission to be an advocate for women of color; to help them have a voice, inside-and-outside of television.” The women Simmons worked with in the series were able to use the project as an opportunity heal, particularly by helping someone else through sharing their story.” Simmons hoped “When they see they’re helping others by just telling their story, it ignites them and makes them more powerful… they can then see that they are indeed a great person, and that they are worthy.”
When the docu-series debuted, women hosted.watch parties. Empowerment groups watched and cried together. Simmons says, “It was Amazing!” She was soon after named one of the Black women leaders, next to Beyonce. At that moment, it hit Simmons that the work she was doing was not only resonating, but confirmation she was walking in her purpose. She says, “When u walk in your purpose, you don’t know how big it is. It’s a setup for something even better. I’m not doing it for recognition; just from the heart.” She continues, “I’m a spiritual person. God has a way of using us to be messengers in different ways, and we don’t have to go around quoting scriptures” to be of ministry to others.
Simmons stands firm in her belief that “Sometimes our mission is to be a light in darkness. There are a lot of dark places in society, and sometimes you just have to sneak in and be the light that exposes that dark place.”
In April or May, Critic’s Choice Award nominees were announced and among those nominees was “Surviving R. Kelly.” Again, the producers weren’t looking for accolades, but acknowledging the women, making their voices heard and reuniting families with their daughters was the main purpose. Simmons didn’t initially understand the impact on everyone… not just people in the U.S., but worldwide. Nine months later, the documentary since has been picked up by Netflix and still being tweeted about. She says, “All of our hard work hasn’t paid off yet. The fight still continues on.”
An Emmy nomination followed soon, thereafter. Simmons says, “Being nominated is a blessing. It allows you to continue with your passion and purpose making meaningful content… educating not only myself, but the whole community and the world.” She continues, “Being nominated allows me to be on a platform” which gives credibility to future projects. She’s now able to state “Emmy-Nominated Producer” on her future projects, and in TV land, that enables her to get her messages out faster. In that way, she is able to use her accolades to her advantage.
If she had to do it all over… she’d so it again!
In fact, a part two to “Surviving R. Kelly” will premiere on January… The Aftermath. After the docu-series aired, the story continued to develop. Simmons says, this go around, they will highlight “those who do support him, so it isn’t biased. It’s important for those people to have their own conversations bout the situation, while we let the world judge what they see.” Viewers will get an update on the victims lives, and the convictions and allegations that have come forward since part one. “Surviving R. Kelly: The Aftermath” is anticipated to air on Lifetime on January 3, 2020.
As we enter into Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Simmons wants to draw particular attention to how to identify a potentially harmful situation. She encourages victims of abuse to:
1. Plan your Safety.
2. Have a plan of action… hide keys, get a spare key, etc.
3. Talk to someone who isn’t in the situation… call a domestic violence hotline, church or other organization that offers free counseling and resources.
Unfortunately, many victims may be in denial or not associate their situation as abusive. Simmons says, “Do your research. Google ‘signs of abuse.’ Some don’t even know domestically violent situation aren’t always physical, but also emotional, mental or verbal. There are many different types of abuse.”
Abuse also has a major impact on our Mental Health. As a major advocate for mental health, Simmons says, “if we deal with the issues early on, we will have less turmoil in adult life. Know that therapy doesn’t mean you’re crazy or that you’re weak; it’s important whether you ‘re going through anything or not. Don’t take on those negative emotions. If we start there, we can develop a healthy mindset.”