On Jan. 3, Lifetime premiered its three-night special, Surviving R. Kelly, which featured harrowing first-person accounts of alleged abuse by the R&B singer against young black women, and it swiftly reignited the long-standing controversy surrounding the star. Kelly himself has denied all the allegations, and has threatened to sue those involved with the docuseries, according to TMZ (Kelly's rep has not returned Romper's request for comment). But Jada Pinkett Smith's message about watching Surviving R. Kelly with her daughter, Willow, was a poignant reminder that, the show wasn't simply something to watch and speculate on, it was also an incredibly valuable teachable moment.
Pinkett Smith took to Instagram on Friday to talk about the show, and in her post, she revealed that she'd watched it along with her 18-year-old daughter. And though the Red Table Talk host admitted the series "was tough to watch," and that it "brought up A LOT for us both," she made it clear that, as far as she was concerned, it was far too important an issue to not discuss with Willow.
She wrote, "Mothers and fathers ... it's tough content but it’s important we have conversations with both our daughters and sons around the many issues in this docuseries. It's well done and makes it clear that we gotta do better ... in so many ways."
But while it may be easy to agree that teens should be knowledgeable about sexual assault and coercion, even a cursory glance at the comments section on Pinkett Smith's post explains why it's so difficult to actually do. Though many of the commenters swiftly condemned the singer, firmly opting to believe the multiple accounts of the women interviewed, there were still many who felt unsure about who or what to believe, and some still seemed to stand by him.
With that said, Pinkett Smith shared another Instagram post Sunday, in which she called out the fact that the series had actually seemed to inexplicably give Kelly's music a boost on streaming services.
On Friday, a rep for Spotify reportedly told The Blast that Kelly's streams had "increased 16 [percent]" since the first installment the Surviving R Kelly series aired, a fact which Pinkett Smith said left her feeling completely confused and frustrated.
In the clip, she reached out to her followers, and said: "I'm having a really difficult time understanding why. But I think it's important that I understand why. I really would like for you guys to help me understand what I'm missing. Even if I'm missing something that I don't necessarily agree with. I just want to understand what I'm missing."
The celebrity mom-of-two then added, "I really don't want to believe that it's because black girls don't matter enough," before reluctantly asking, "Or is that the reason?"
Pinkett Smith did get a lot of responses to her questions at least, with users on Twitter sharing theories about people being curious and trying to go back and "decode" possible hidden messages in his songs, or perhaps just being too young to really understand the controversy and checking out Kelly's music to learn more.
But, of course, whatever the reason (and there are likely many), the outcome is still the same: support for the singer that ultimately contributes to his overall sales figures.
Regardless of the reason though, the fact that there still seems to always be people who feel compelled to defend or protect people in the wake of disturbing allegations at least explains why Pinkett Smith's original post about watching the docuseries with her daughter matters so much.
As uncomfortable as it may be to think about, and as much as we may prefer to think awful things aren't actually happening, keeping a dialogue open about a reality that women (and especially non-white women) face is a crucial step in trying to push back against abuse, and the ways in which is has long been ignored or minimized.
If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673) or visit online.rainn.org.