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R. Kelly allegations raise the question: Do #BlackGirlsLivesMatter too?

By Clarence Page, Tribune Content Agency on

Last year, a new scandal erupted with accusations that Kelly was trapping women in a "sex cult," which left them mostly cut off from their families. The documentary follows the parents of two of those women as they try without success to persuade their daughters to come home.

He was also known to hang out and meet girls at Hyde Park's Kenwood Academy, for years after he dropped out to start his music career. Did anyone notice this tall black superstar hanging around?

"We all noticed," says Chicago writer Mikki Kendall in the documentary. "(But) nobody cared because we were black girls."

Somebody needs to care. Social networks buzz with critics and defenders of Kelly who compare him to another superstar, Bill Cosby, who eventually was convicted after decades of rumors that he drugged and raped women -- almost all of whom happened to be white.

But in this age of Twitter, the #MeToo movement and the Time's Up campaign, there's also new hope. The Lifetime documentary has helped give new life to another recent hashtag, #MuteRKelly, a movement that pushes for boycotts of his albums, concerts, web streaming and radio airplay.

In one stunning victory for Time's Up, an R. Kelly concert was canceled last April at the University of Illinois at Chicago after student protests. But another familiar and troubling question looms for the rest of us who object to Kelly's alleged offenses.

It is the same question raised about Cosby, Woody Allen and others who have been caught up in sexual misconduct allegations:

 

Can we separate the artist in our minds from our appreciation of his or her art?

R. Kelly often is called a "genius" because of his hits, which range from the sexually raunchy to the near-sacred, such as "I Believe I Can Fly," a hit that is sung in churches, kindergartens, graduation ceremonies and talent shows around the globe.

But it's hard to choose between the man and his music when the man has put so much of himself into his music.

Yet now, even if I happen to hear his biggest hit come over the sound system in a shopping mall, it's going to sound like "I believe I can lie."

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(E-mail Clarence Page at cpage@chicagotribune.com.)

(c) 2019 CLARENCE PAGE DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.

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