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A screening of the docuseries Surviving R. Kelly had be evacuated due to threats of violence

Tuesday night’s screening was meant to give survivors a voice. Instead, it had to be evacuated due to threats.

TV One’s ‘Rickey Smiley For Real’ Season 2 Premiere Screening
Drea Kelly said threats at Tuesday’s Surviving R. Kelly screening only united the victims.
Marcus Ingram/Getty Images for TV One
Aja Romano writes about pop culture, media, and ethics. Before joining Vox in 2016, they were a staff reporter at the Daily Dot. A 2019 fellow of the National Critics Institute, they’re considered an authority on fandom, the internet, and the culture wars.

A private New York City screening of Lifetime’s upcoming docuseries Surviving R. Kelly was evacuated and then canceled on Tuesday night after two anonymous callers phoned in threats, including a gun threat.

The series is the second of two documentaries produced this year that have examined the longstanding allegations of sexual abuse brought by multiple women against the singer.

Managers at NeueHouse Madison Square, the venue where the premiere was being held, told press that they did not believe the threats were credible. But they and Lifetime still decided to evacuate the building in response, as a precaution.

“The safety and security of our panel, guests and staff is of paramount importance to Lifetime,” the network said in a statement. Police were also called to the scene.

The threats were generally believed to have been phoned in by R. Kelly supporters who wanted to intimidate the production and the women who have accused Kelly. One anonymous source told Variety the threats were “painful for the survivors.”

“Calling in a noncredible threat to the NYPD to interrupt our screening IS an act of desperation from people who don’t want these truths shared with the world,” the film’s executive producer, Dream Hampton, told CNN.

Several attendees, including Me Too movement founder Tarana Burke, tweeted about the evacuation using the hashtag #MuteRKelly, which has become a form of protest attempting to diminish Kelly’s clout within the music industry and on streaming sites like Spotify.

Among those who spoke out after the evacuation was Kelly’s ex-wife Drea Kelly, who also attended the screening. In a column for Rolling Stone, Kelly wrote that she wasn’t daunted by the threats but was encouraged because “that lets me know we’re on the right track.”

“We’re causing people to listen,” she wrote:

We’re getting people’s attention and we’re getting attention from the one who thought that he was invincible and untouchable. And that also applies to the people that work for him and the people that are around him.

What people don’t understand is that we are a fire that is burning and it’s never going to go out. They thought they were putting us out; they just put gasoline on a fire and now we’re just gonna burn longer and stronger. You actually helped us when it was meant to harm us [because] this did nothing but unite us even more.

Surviving R. Kelly has been called “the most comprehensive and detailed” summary of the allegations against Kelly, which span three decades. Lifetime plans to release the six-hour docuseries in three parts beginning Thursday, January 3.

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