How Black Women Empowerment Spurred Executive Producer Tamra Simmons’ Lifetime Docuseries ‘Surviving R. Kelly’

Published on May 19, 2019

During an era of hope for survivors of sexual assault and harassment, the #MeToo movement continues to make waves. At the forefront of this movement, high-profile figures are being exposed at an all-time high for sexual misconduct cases.

Previously reported at Grit Daily, we examined R. Kelly’s infamous CBS interview with Gayle King regarding his ongoing sexual abuse claims. In the interview, Kelly seemed to play the victim when King drilled him with tough questions related to past accusations of sexual abuse. The ‘Surviving R. Kelly’ docuseries on Lifetime added fuel to the fire as Kelly now faces serious charges stemming from decades of sexual abuse allegations with underage women.

The R&B crooner probably felt the need to break his silence after the special three-night docuseries featuring interviews from alleged victims, which reportedly was Lifetime’s highest-rated program in more than two years. Did this groundbreaking documentary play a major role in Kelz being charged with 10 counts of felony aggravated sexual assault?

While there has been much progress for spreading awareness of women’s rights, there is an underlying notion that many minority women feel that needs to be addressed: the under-representation of black women who are victims of sexual assault.

On racial disparity

For Tamra Simmons, who is the executive producer of the docuseries, she recognized this racial disparity and her motive for making the highly-anticipated film was simple: to provide a platform for the victim’s and their families to tell their stories. More importantly, the television producer was eager to shed light on black women who are survivors of sexual violence.

After doing thorough research on the many stories about Kelly with underage girls, she was able to connect with a family in Atlanta whose daughter allegedly became intimately involved with the singer. They began to open up about their own traumatic experiences surrounding the R. Kelly scandal.

“I have a heart for wanting to heal families and helping people in certain situations,” Simmons explains in an exclusive interview with The Vibe Show Podcast. “I was in Atlanta and this family was in Atlanta and I was like ‘hey this is who I am and I just want to know more about your story.’ ”

Women of color: Speak up

Simmons, who began her career in television producing for reality shows on VH1, was passionate about offering women of color a proper platform to speak up about their experiences with sexual abuse.

“There has to be some kind of light shed on this; primarily because black women need to be able to speak up,” Simmons says. “You do have the Harvey Weinstein and the Bill Cosby (case) but mainly it’s predominantly our other counterparts which are white women. You don’t see these black women who are afraid to speak up because they don’t think people are going to believe them.”

Through more visits with the family, she learned about many other women living in Atlanta who also claimed they were victims of Kelly. This led her on an investigative journey to uncover more accounts from women who were affected — many of whom were both underage and adults at the time they met the music icon. Forming a production team that would take on this lengthy film, Tamra successfully pitched the idea to the network.

Grit Daily was able to partner with The Vibe Show Podcast for an exclusive interview with Simmons about her journey in the entertainment industry, and the aftermath of the controversial Lifetime docuseries. For more celebrity interviews from host and CEO Kevin Hampton with legends in the entertainment industry, tune in every week by visiting the The Vibe Show Podcast.

Grit Daily: There are still a lot of R. Kelly fans. Did you receive any backlash from the documentary?

Tamra Simmons: Of course, but not from a lot of people. Most people understand the impact and message is that black women matter. Overall some people were mad but it was more like 50/50. I don’t think they would be as mad if it wasn’t R. Kelly. Some people were like ‘we thank you for giving black women a voice and a platform, people care about our stories now.’ Some thought we were trying to bring a black man down but that’s not the case. That was not my mission. You have this man who has repeatedly did this to women when they 15 and 16-years-old. And that’s what a want to stop because I have a daughter.

GD: Why was it important for you to shed light on the issue of sexual abuse against women?

TS: If I have the ability to give these women a voice and help them heal, then they can heal other women and let other women know they were in this same situation. And they came out of it. It doesn’t matter if it’s R. Kelly. Any person that you’re with, if you are in an abusive relationship, that’s not okay. And you need to know there’s life after that. That’s what the message is: there is life after abuse.

GD: Tell us more about your journey in television and the entertainment industry.

TS: I didn’t watch much TV growing up but the watched the news. So I never said I wanted to be a TV producer. I started working with different talent through my marketing company and started meeting different casting directors. VH1 was the first network I worked with. I was getting extras for one show that Lisa Raye had called Single Ladies. Then I started getting introduced to athletes and I realized I’m all in this entertainment industry.

Fast forward to 2016, Tiny Harris’ (rapper T.I.’s wife) daughter Zonnique, and Waka Flocka’s little brother, which is Debra Antney’s son, came to me with a show idea. I pitched it to a network and they ended up saying that they’d be great for an ensemble cast. They said they were having a hard time getting this show off the ground and offered to make me a produce for Growing Up Hip Hop on We TV.

Ike (Issac) Morgan is a Columnist at Grit Daily. A 2009 graduate of Florida A&M University's School of Journalism and Graphic Communication, Issac Morgan wears many hats as a freelance journalist with published clips in numerous notable media outlets such as Sheen magazine, The Jasmine Brand, and Celebrity Net Worth. He has provided exclusive coverage on celebrity/public figures featured in many top publications for print and online platforms. Morgan is also a media relations/publicity consultant, delivering consistent media coverage and placement for a diverse clientele in entertainment, fitness, fashion and for nonprofits. His most recognizable publicity efforts have been for Christopher "Play" Martin of Kid 'n Play where he established press coverage for his forthcoming documentary film "AndiDanced." Mr. Morgan gives insight into pop culture, entertainment, and politics.

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