If residents of Culver City, Calif., look to the sky above the Sony Music headquarters from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. PST on Friday, they’ll see a plane bearing a banner that reads: “RCA/SONY: DROP SEXUAL PREDATOR R. KELLY.”
The plane has been commissioned by national women’s organization UltraViolet. The women’s group is calling out the record companies for their continued relationships with and enabling R. Kelly, despite decades of sexual abuse allegations; allegations that have become even more vivid in the aftermath of the deeply disturbing documentary series Surviving R. Kelly on Lifetime.
The organization credits the leadership of #MuteRKelly campaign co-founders Kenyette Barnes and Oronike Odeleye, who worked with executive producer dream hampton on the documentary. The campaign, which has been successful in convincing several concert venues and radio stations to disassociate with the entertainer, continues to protest any support of Kelly’s ongoing career, including the continuation of his record contracts.
“It is long past time for RCA to dump R. Kelly and take a stand against abuse. Their inaction is beyond shameful. RCA can no longer pretend that R. Kelly’s music can be separated from his violent actions,” Karin Roland, Chief Campaigns Officer at UltraViolet, said in a statement. “Kelly uses his fame, musical talent, fortune and standing in the music industry to lure in and abuse young Black girls. Even some of his songs are literally inspired by the abuses he has perpetrated.”
“Kelly has been able to get away with his years of abuse precisely because his victims are young Black girls who face even more barriers to justice than their white peers,” Roland’s statement continued. “Sixty percent of Black women are sexually abused by age 18, but their abuse is written off because of harmful racial stereotypes that paint Black women and girls as more sexually promiscuous and aggressive than young white girls. We must believe and support Black survivors of sexual violence. It is time all of us work alongside the amazing Black women organizers calling out R. Kelly and his enablers to ensure justice.”
In addition, UltraViolet has issued a petition urging RCA to drop R. Kelly, with signatures numbering in the tens of thousands.
Roland also called out popular streaming platform Spotify, which was among the first to remove R. Kelly from its playlists last year, garnering an open letter of thanks from UltraViolet. Sadly, the service soon reversed its decision due to pressure from industry heavyweights like Kendrick Lamar, who threatened to pull his own catalog from the service in support of Kelly.
“When record labels like RCA Records and music platforms like Spotify promote abusers, they allow those abusers to reap in profits, lining their pockets with royalties and expanding their fan base,” Roland added. “This normalizes violence against women. We are deeply disappointed that in light of the comprehensive allegations of sexual abuse made public by the “Surviving R. Kelly” documentary, that RCA Records and Spotify continue to choose abusers over the survivors of their crimes.”
#MuteRKelly co-founder Odeleye has had plenty to say as well, publishing an op-ed in Glamour on Tuesday about her own awakening to the accusations against Kelly, the founding of the countermovement, and the backlash they have faced, predominantly from within the black community.
“After decades of accusations, it dawned on me that people knew full well what was going on, what was happening to black women, and we had made a collective decision not to take action,” she wrote. “And I realized, I’m one of those people who is not standing with the victims. I had heard him on the radio. I had heard his music at barbecues, graduations, parties. It just hit me then, ‘We’re dancing to these women’s pain.’
In black communities, I think when people heard about #MeToo, the reaction was, “Yes!” When we heard about Time’s Up, it was, “Yes!” When people heard about #MuteRKelly, it was like, “Hold on now…” His music is so rooted in our experience that we have an emotional connection to it—not so much to him, but to the music itself. When people hear “Step In The Name Of Love,” it brings up good memories. When they hear “I Believe I Can Fly,” they’re not thinking about Space Jam, they’re thinking about their baby’s graduation from kindergarten. It’s not OK, but I do think a lot of people didn’t want to let those good feelings go and face the reality that was behind them.
As black people, we have an inside voice and an outside voice. We’re cautious when it comes to criticizing other black people in the media. We feel and often attacked from all sides. People don’t want to contribute to that. Sometimes we can’t parse out when an attack is relevant and when it’s not—who we should support and who we shouldn’t. Part of the problem also is that as a culture in general we worship celebrities. We want to be like them. Eat what they eat. Wear what they wear. It’s hard to accept that sometimes, yes, someone is a terrible person. And our support has helped him this whole time.
Recognizing the rise of the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements in tandem with #MuteRKelly, Odeleye also draws the correlation between the three, writing that they “focus on different aspects of sexual abuse,” but share a common goal.
“We’re standing up and telling people, ‘We’re not going to accept this in our workplace. We’re not going to accept this from our entertainers. We’re not going to accept this in our lives and our homes. We’re not going to accept this behavior for our children. Wherever we find it, we’re going to root it out.”
The Glow Up tip: Los Angeles area residents, the UltraViolet protest is taking place today, Friday, Jan. 11 from 11:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m. PST at the Sony Music Offices. 10202 Washington Blvd, Culver City, Calif. 90232.