R Kelly to Drake: A Decades-Long Culture of Silencing #MeToo
While Drake sampled R Kelly in his 2021 album, Kanye West stepped on stage with Marilyn Manson and DaBaby.
The Quint DAILY
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(Trigger warning: Mentions of sexual assault, grooming, abuse)
In August, Kanye West held a listening event for his album 'DONDA' and he brought out two people on stage: DaBaby and Marilyn Manson. 'DONDA' also credited Chris Brown, accused of assault and battery, starting with his ex-girlfriend Rihanna, as co-writer on ‘New Again’. This very month (September), Drake dropped his album 'Certified Lover Boy' which samples…R Kelly.
R Kelly, on Wednesday, was found guilty on all counts in his trial for sex-crimes which involved sex trafficking, sexual assault, and grooming. Many of the victims that came forward with allegations of sexual misconduct against Kelly were minors when they met the ‘King of R&B’.
Marilyn Manson has also been accused of sexual assault and rape, by several people including his ex-wife. DaBaby was recently in hot water because of homophobic comments which led to several music festivals dropping him from their lineups.
So, what made Billboard chart-topping artistes like Kanye and Drake choose these rather ‘illustrious’ people for their albums, several years after the #MeToo reckoning of the entertainment industry? Apathy, perhaps.
#MeToo and a Pervasive Rape Culture
The tag 'MeToo', first used by Tarana Burke in 2006, became viral in 2017 after allegations of sexual abuse surfaced against Harvey Weinstein. Journalist Ronan Farrow, famous for his New Yorker report about the ‘Weinstein effect’, wrote a detailed account of the industry enabling the behaviour of Weinstein and others like him.
Farrow wrote that “employees described what was, in essence, a culture of complicity at Weinstein’s places of business, with numerous people throughout the companies fully aware of his behaviour but either abetting it or looking the other way.”
Like the artistes mentioned above, Harvey Weinstein was a behemoth in the entertainment industry. People like Weinstein, Kelly, and Manson over the years created and occupied a place in their industry that made it extremely difficult to avoid them.
In India too, the #MeToo movement brought several allegations to the spotlight including those against organisations like All India Bakch*d (AIB) and Only Much Louder (OML). A report in The Caravan had listed out allegations levelled by former employees at OML, alleging a problematic work culture. One of the accusers later called the ‘silence’ from the industry ‘eerily deafening’.
In a society where the onus of ‘proof’ is still placed on survivors, and most are discredited, the #MeToo movement is battling a culture of complicity in a David vs Goliath-esque imbalance.
Of Cancel Culture and Criminal Proceedings
The docuseries, Surviving R Kelly, released in January 2019, had detailed accounts of abuse at the hands of Kelly including control over the victim’s movement within his house and physical abuse. However, decades ago, the story of Aaliyah was in the public forum (Kelly had illegally married Aaliyah when he was 27 and she was a teen, in 1994).
Even so, since the 90s, Kelly has collaborated with high-profile artistes like Lady Gaga, Usher, Mariah Carey, and Celine Dion. Lady Gaga and Chance the Rapper later publicly apologised for the same…after severe backlash. Music journalist Ann Powers had credited Kelly’s omnipresence to a normalisation of sexual misconduct in the industry.
“It’s hard to think of a group or an artist who didn’t pay tribute to teenage girls in a way that we might question today. Even the Beatles you know, ‘When I saw her standing there, she was just 17, if you know what I mean.’”Ann Powers, Music journalist
Chance had even admitted in Surviving R Kelly that he didn’t take the allegations against Kelly seriously because the accusers were black women, highlighting how minority groups are further disadvantaged. It took over three decades for Kelly’s accusers to get justice. And yet, this ruling came almost two months after comedian Bill Cosby, accused by almost 60 people, was released from jail.
Actors like Angelina Jolie and Gwyneth Paltrow had accused Weinstein of sexual misconduct, and in an interview, Jolie recalls being ‘hurt’ when her then-husband Brad Pitt decided to work with Weinstein.
“It was beyond a pass. It was something I had to escape. I stayed away and warned people about him (Weinstein). I remember telling Jonny (Lee Miller), my first husband, who was great about it, to spread the word to other guys – don’t let girls go alone with him.”Angelina Jolie, Actor
Talking about Brad’s decision to bring on Weinstein as a producer on Killing Them Softly, Jolie had said, “We fought about it. Of course it hurt.”
Closer to home, OML continued to host the NH7 Weekender and throngs gathered at these venues. After the allegations against comics at AIB, including Utsav Chakraborty, came to the fore, the company was dissolved. Tanmay Bhatt admitted to knowing about the misconduct and AIB said they “messed up.” Years later, comedians previously associated with AIB still find a stage, even on a streaming giant like Netflix.
Author DaShanne Stokes said it best: Standing behind predators makes prey of us all.
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