NDAs and Legal Trails: 'Surviving R. Kelly Part II' Bosses Say "It's Sad It Had to Go On This Long"

Surviving R Kelly Dominique Gardner - Publicity - H 2019
Courtesy of Lifetime

Surviving R. Kelly Part II: The Reckoning, the explosive follow-up to Lifetime's 2019 docuseries about R. Kelly, covered a lot of ground when it aired across three nights, concluding on Saturday. In addition to tracing a 30-year history of sexual violence and abuse, the sequel series also shed light on the personal and legal ramifications for the survivors and Kelly, respectively, in the year between the two projects.

"After experiencing that screening where there was a gun threat called in, that changed a lot of ways that we wanted to approach [Part II]," executive producer Jesse Daniels tells The Hollywood Reporter about the evacuation of a Dec. 4, 2018 private event for Surviving R. Kelly, which is highlighted in The Reckoning. "We wanted to be extra careful this time around. But we also knew that in order to get the best story, you’ve got to put yourself out there. We ultimately knew that we were going to have to take some risks for Part II."

Below, Daniels and fellow exec producer Brie Miranda Bryant, also Lifetime's senior vp unscripted development and programming, talk to THR about those risks and rewards, as well as landing some of the follow-up's biggest gets while also closing the door (for now) on a part three. And for the 10 survivors who went on the record, Bryant says: "It’s their story. It’s their truth. And no one should own that but them. In owning their stories and their truth, they created change."

Were there people who didn’t participate because of the response the first time around?

Brie Miranda Bryant: Yes. There are some people who didn’t want to participate in Part II, and I think we try and respect that as much as possible. And then there are some people where their story was told. Especially for survivors, it’s their choice whether they want to speak or not, so we tried to approach that with as much sensitivity as possible.

There are two women in Part II who speak about breaking their NDAs: Lanita Carter and Jerhonda Pace, the latter a key person in the new felony counts against Kelly. How do you hope they serve as hope to other women who have signed non-disclosure agreements and who want to speak out?

Jesse Daniels: We wanted to support their choice no matter what. If you didn’t want to speak out because you were afraid of the backlash that would happen and you wanted to move on, we were supportive of that. But if you were someone who did want to speak out, we want to provide our survivors a platform to be heard, and we certainly hope now in this new era that other people would feel the same way if they came across this.

Bryant: I think it’s empowering ownership, right? Our lives are our stories. We own that. So what we heard back from a lot of viewers and throughout social media was support for being able to be brave enough to own their own story and tell it in the way that you’re comfortable with when explaining your truth. That was a part of the journey for us as producers and, I believe, for every single survivor and participant who sat down. It was what they experienced. It’s their story. It’s their truth. And no one should own that but them.

There has been a lot of talk lately around NDAs in sexual misconduct cases. Part II details how many of these women either signed an NDA with a settlement or were asked to sign some sort of document by Kelly. What did you find about the power of these documents?

Bryant: I think these women created change. In owning their stories and their truth, they created change. And I think with change is an abundance of challenges. They all experienced some significant challenges. But I think the impact — and I don’t even know if they feel it in the way that the rest of the world did — but the impact was so significant. I couldn’t say it would be worth it. I think for some survivors and participants, they felt like it was.

Susan E. Loggans is named as the attorney who handled settlements on behalf of Kelly. When did you learn about her, and did you try to get her to participate?

Daniels: We certainly reached out this year to try to see if she would participate, as well as last year. We were definitely familiar with her last year. I think what you’re tapping into is a larger piece of the puzzle, which is that there is a legal trail of this behavior of these things happening dating back to the early '90s. So one of the messaging we wanted to tackle this year through some of our survivors earlier on was that this could have stopped in some ways. And it’s sad that it had to go on this long.

Do you know how recently she was brokering these settlements?

Daniels: We don’t, because with NDAs, it’s not public record. So unless someone comes out and says, "Hey I signed this" or gives us information about it, there’s no way to know. And I think that’s the danger of NDAs as we know them today. I think they can be very helpful in some situations and in others, extremely dangerous, as we’ve seen.

You did get two former staffers to participate — Lindsey Perryman-Dunn and her sister Jen Emrich, who both defend Kelly. Why was their point of view important for their story? 

Bryant: We have never said no to anyone who wanted to sit down.

Daniels: We don’t ever want to turn our backs to people who are part of this story, who want to sit down and tell their side of things. We knew that the backlash the survivors received online was going to be a story we were going to tell, that sacrifice. When we reached out to the two twins, they were actually pretty eager to come on and share their side of how they feel the events went down. They are the ones leading that [#unmuterkelly] messaging, and so we felt like it was important to speak with them.

Bryant: We also think it’s pertinent to bring folks from both sides of the fence together in order to see and hear as much of a 360-degree perspective as possible of the last 30 years. That’s the best we can do in terms of unpacking how this infrastructure was created.

Cook County State Attorney Kim Foxx explains how important it is to get victims to come forward when it comes to cases of sexual assault, and her public plea ended up convincing more women to do so. How significant was her presence here? 

Bryant: Getting Kim Foxx [to participate] was a huge get. We were so excited to have her, and she was a pleasure to work with. We sat down with her one time and the conversation is what you see; maybe a little bit more was left on the cutting room floor. But she was extremely courageous in her position to open those doors for women and girls and whoever — men, boys, I don’t know — to come forward and tell their stories. And I hope that she’s inspiration for other people of authority who can open those doors for people, like our survivors, who have been through these types of situations and who feel like they have a safe haven to be heard. Because it shouldn’t really be through a documentary, it should be through the legal system that these things are handled.

Dominique Gardner is a success story to come out of Surviving R. Kelly. How did it feel to be able to share her story in Part II?

Daniels: Sitting down with Dominique was an incredibly moving experience. We are so proud that she has been able to turn a new page in her life. It was extremely brave of her to share her experience, and it's powerful for us to be able to continue to share her journey.

Bryant: [Dominique's mother] Michelle Gardner was extremely generous in allowing production to film a very intimate journey of her pursuit to get Dominique back in Part I. We were very curious and hopeful about how her family was doing since being reunited. When she came back to film for Part II, we all found her story about putting the pieces of her family back together again to be a very emotional journey. Once Jesse connected with and later interviewed Dominique, everything seemed to fall into place. We were so honored that Dominque chose to share her journey with us. She is a courageous woman, and we wish her the very best.

That leads to Azriel Clary and Joycelyn Savage. The ending title card updates viewers that Clary reunited with her family last month but still supports Kelly for his trial, and that Savage is still at Trump Tower [where Kelly was residing before being taken into custody]. Have you been in touch with Clary, and do you plan to do an update with her? And if Kelly is in federal custody, who are the enablers still with Savage?

Daniels: With Joycelyn, we hear trickles of information about what’s going on. We have an idea of who may be with her, I don’t know if we have enough evidence yet to say it publicly. So we have to be careful with what we put out there. But we hear trickles of information about Joycelyn, and we’re certainly thinking of her and the Savages as a whole, her family, especially for the holidays. And as for the Clarys, we’re a little bit more in touch with what’s going on there. Again, I’m a little hesitant to speak too much to that, but I can tell you, and Brie would agree, we’re not thinking of any sort of follow-up to this. We’re just focused on Part II and making sure this has been done and rolled out the right way.

How does it feel to know that Clary is now home? And do you hope Part II can reach Savage?

Daniels: The Clary family has worked so hard for so many years to reunite with their daughter. We truly hope their healing as a family can begin now. It’s hard for us to say what Part II will do, but we know the Savages won’t give up until they too get to reunite with Joycelyn. Our hearts remain with them and the Clarys.

There are title cards at each commercial break displaying Kelly’s response to the claims. Did you reach out to have him speak in any capacity?

Bryant: Legally, we had to reach out and request an interview or responses in any way, shape or form or that his team wanted to provide. So that was done, and what you see is what we got.

What are your hopes and expectations when Kelly goes to trial?

Daniels: Our goals have always been focused on the documentary series itself. We don’t know what will happen during the trials, but we’ll be watching from the sidelines alongside the rest of the world.

You ended Part II by celebrating the survivors. How do you hope this series continues to find justice for black girls and women who are victims of sexual violence?

Bryant: Statistics show that every 98 seconds an American is sexually assaulted, and every 11 minutes, that victim is a child. Only five out of every 1,000 perpetrators end up in prison. The journey to end sexual violence will be a long journey for all of us. We hope that by continuing to provide a platform to share what some of our survivors have endured that we'll allow space for more survivors to find the very support they need.  

Part II also explored Kelly as a cultural joke. What do you want to see from the comedy/pop culture world when it comes to Kelly?

Daniels: Comedy is often at the frontlines of major events, and that will never change. Personally, I feel that joking about these sensitive topics is only healthy when it sparks a deeper conversation or awareness around the issue.

Bryant: We’d be remiss if we didn’t acknowledge the power of humor and comedy or the necessity of it. It oftentimes makes issues that are extremely uncomfortable and hard to discuss digestible. Comedy is also one of a few mediums that continued a cultural conversation around this situation for the last two decades. But it was a faceless conversation for so long. Surviving R. Kelly helped to change the circumstances around the cultural conversation by showing the severity and impact this had in the first person. Hopefully the conversation will continue and will continue to evolve. But it’s pretty impossible not to be met with a different sort of sensitivity now. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.