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The problematic relevance of R&B singer R. Kelly was among the hottest topics debated by Hollywood and media power players — and the founder of the #MeToo movement — on Friday in Los Angeles.
Kelly has been accused of having sex with minors and was tried and acquitted for child pornography, among other assault accusations dating as far back as 1994. He still enjoys a music and touring career with a rapt fan base.
“I’m not sure how he plays on any radio station. I’m not sure how he tours,” said Fatima Goss Graves, president and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center.
Graves participated in a discussion with Professor Anita Hill, whose landmark 1991 sexual harassment case against Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas makes her an elder stateswoman for the dozens of sexual harassment scandals plaguing Hollywood, media and corporate America in the past months.
The event was held at United Talent Agency’s Beverly Hills headquarters, and attended by the likes of Harvey Weinstein accuser Mira Sorvino, Jeffrey Tambor accuser Trace Lysette, former APA agent Tyler Grasham accuser Blaise Lipman, #MeToo member Alyssa Milano and more.
“How there isn’t a similar, I don’t know if Weinstein is now a verb, but there isn’t a similar approach to this decades-long conduct that has happened under all of our noses?” Goss wondered about Kelly.
Roughly 80 women have come forward since October with allegations of rape, assault and sexual harassment at the hands of disgraced Weinstein (who denies any nonconsensual sex). He’s been fired as the CEO of his company, stripped of honorary titles, booted from the film academy and the Producers Guild, and is no longer accepted into polite society.
Kelly went on a nationwide tour in 2016 mounted by Live Nation. It was in support of his 13th studio album, “The Buffet,” from Sony Music imprint RCA Records. In July, BuzzFeed published an extensive report about a so-called “sex cult” where they said Kelly engaged in sex with underage women and attempted to control them. Jerhonda Pace said she was 16 when Kelly and an older female offered her sexual instruction while living with him, where he would lock her in a room for days at a time. The story is one of many accusations of sexual abuse or misconduct over nearly 25 years, an exhaustive timeline of which can be found at Rolling Stone.
Tarana Burke, founder of the awareness group Me Too that became the hashtag #MeToo and a platform for the abused to speak out, weighed in with passion from her seat in the UTA auditorium.
“The R. Kelly issue is something that is an internal issue in our community,” said Burke, referring to the black community.
Burke said there are “ways in which people outside of the community can help. For instance, Sony can drop him from his record label. People across all races can petition Sony to drop R. Kelly, they can petition Live Nation to drop R. Kelly. Those are two corporations that support him.”
The sentiment was met with applause. Representatives for Kelly, Sony Music and Live Nation did not immediately return TheWrap’s request for comment.
After the July report from BuzzFeed hit, an online petition was created asking Sony to drop the singer (reminiscent of a similar campaign against the music giant after producer Dr. Luke was accused by artist Kesha of rape). It reached over 36,000 signatures. Kelly remains signed to RCA Records.
“Beyond that, we have to have some internal conversations in our own community … it’s a hard one and we’re going to have to approach it with some delicacy and some nuance. There are things that are very particular to certain communities. In the Latino-Latina community, in the black community, in the Asian community, we all have very specific ways that issues around sexual violence that we have to deal with,” Burke concluded.
Goss added that “it is OK to call out things that have even been tradition. Part of this moment is that it is one that will last, and move us to a place where there will be real change.”
Kelly is not actively promoting new music or touring, though he has a show scheduled for New York City’s Highline Ballroom in January and is co-headlining a gig with Charlie Wilson in Detroit this February.
The audience question that inspired Friday’s conversation about Kelly came from Jasmyne Cannick, a political strategist, who asked how the #MeToo movement could expand to include a conversation about widely accepted misogyny in hip-hop and how it affects the every day woman.
Read the question in full:
When we talk about hip hop and rap, and how we as black women and women of color are conditioned to support artists who call us bitches and hoes and all of these other words. When we talk about #MeToo, that has to be a part of it too, right?
We’re also talking about the same community where people like me — I don’t walk in my neighborhood, I don’t jog, because I have a big butt and I’m black. Men in my neighborhood think it’s OK to say, ‘Oh, look at your big ass’ or ‘Hey, where’s your man?’
When we talk about the different types of harassers, I’m talking about the sons, the fathers, the uncles, the grandfathers. How do we put that as a part of the conversation as well?