A new Lifetime docuseries calling out the long history of abuse by R&B singer R. Kelly quickly faced backlash in the month since its release. The premiere for the six-part series Surviving R. Kelly was canceled following a gun threat, and now allegations outlined in the film are being put under the spotlight.
The first episode of the series attracted headlines with a very damning account from one of Kelly's former backup singers Jovante Cunningham, who says she witnessed a number of his sexual encounters with underaged girls in the '90s, Aaliyah among them. Now Aaliyah's mother Diane Haughton is refuting that claim.
"The woman and so-called backup singer that describes seeing, meeting or ever breathing the same air as my daughter, Aaliyah, is lying and is a liar," Haughton wrote in a public statement. "My husband and I were always on tour with her and at interviews and every place she went throughout her entire career. Whoever this woman is, I have never seen her before anywhere on planet earth, until now."
Cunningham alleged to have seen a 15-year-old Aaliyah and then 27-year-old Kelly having a sexual encounter on a tour bus. "We were out on the road with Aaliyah,” she explained in the episode. “On a tour bus, there really aren’t many confined spaces. When you get on the bus there are bunks and so these bunks have little curtains you can pull at night if you don’t want anybody to see you sleeping. So it just so happened we were all laying in our bunks and the curtains are open, everybody’s communicating, laughing. When the [room] door flew open on the bus. Robert was having sex with Aaliyah."
When asked what she saw in particular, Cunningham responded, "Things that an adult should not be doing with a child. I can’t stress to you how people are still suffering behind things that went on 20 years ago."
Haughton is calling Cunningham's story "lies and fabrications" that "cannot be tolerated and allowed to be spewed from the forked tongues of saboteurs of Aaliyah's legacy."
There is a well-documented history of R. Kelly's abuse, so whether or not you believe Haughton's response doesn't take away from the many other reports outlining Kelly's inappropriate behavior with young and underaged women.
Haughton does not, however, address the rumors that Kelly and Aaliyah got married in 1994 with falsified records.
Demetrius Smith, R. Kelly's former personal assistant, says in the first episode of Surviving R. Kelly that he was there when they got married. "I was in the room when they got married," he said. "I’m not proud of that. I had papers forged for them when Aaliyah was underaged. It was just a quick little ceremony. She didn’t have on a white dress. He didn’t have on a tux. Just every day wear. She looked worried and scared."
Smith says their marriage was annulled within a year. "Her parents had the last say," he said, which may explain why Haughton did not address the issue in her statement.
Kelly is reportedly now planning to sue Lifetime, per TMZ, over the six-part series.