Tamra Simmons Executive Producer of Surviving R. Kelly Opens Up About the Docuseries

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Tamra Simmons is an executive producer, consulting producer, and developing producer. She is the CEO of the Tamra Simmons Brand Agency, where she has worked on shows such as Growing Up Hip Hop: Atlanta, Mary Mary and Single Ladies. Tamra is also one of the masterminds and executive producer behind the docuseries that holds the title of Lifetime’s strongest non-fiction series in the past seven years, bringing in an average of 2.1 million live views, Surviving R. Kelly.

Social media and news outlets have all been buzzing recently about R. Kelly’s interview with Gayle King, his child support charges and arrest, and a new sex tape that was recently released. We had a lot of questions, and Tamra was gracious enough to share her thoughts about R. Kelly, the survivors, their parents and so much more.

MillBuzz: Rumors have been circulating about R. Kelly for years. Why do you think it took a documentary to result in an indictment?

Simmons: I think it’s the era that we’re in now where things can be talked about on social media and it goes beyond only being discussed at court. I think people are now looking at documentaries for the history of several different stories and putting it in front of possibly 50 million viewers makes it hard to ignore.

MillBuzz: Were you shocked to hear he couldn’t come up with the $100,000 bond himself?

Simmons: No, actually I wasn’t. Over the years I’ve heard he’d paid people off and maybe that’s why he got off on the prior allegations. When you’re paying people off, and not able to have your concerts and things are being canceled because of the #MuteRKelly and the #MeToo movement, I believe all of that hindered him from having the capital he probably would’ve had if those things weren’t in place.

MillBuzz: Many people are blaming the parents. What are your thoughts on that? 

Simmons: I think these were parents who really thought their daughters were talented and then you have a man who’s very talented, as well. They supervised, but unfortunately, things got out of hand, of course. The next thing they knew, their daughters were gone with him instead of working on music. It wasn’t what the parents thought it was. I don’t think the parents are to blame at all. They knew he’d gotten off on allegations, but they weren’t watching the trial. They knew he wasn’t found guilty, but they were still being cautious. At the same time, you can’t always be in your daughter’s phone or having conversations so it can easily happen.

MillBuzz: Should the adults who were working for him be charged as well?

Simmons: I believe that anyone who had knowledge whether they were around him, were friends of his or whatever, they should probably face the same consequences, as well.

MillBuzz: A picture was posted on social media of R. Kelly, soon after being released on bond, going to the McDonald’s that he allegedly visited to prey on young girls. Do you think there was a message behind that visit?

Simmons: Of course. He did the same thing when he got off on trial, he goes back to his regular life. He’s going to show you that it doesn’t matter what you do to me I’m still going to do what I want to do. I am who I am… R. Kelly. I wasn’t surprised by that.

MillBuzz: After the show aired there were people who blamed the survivors? Why do you think it’s so hard for people to see R. Kelly in a negative way?

Simmons: I don’t think it’s hard for people to see R. Kelly in a negative way, I just believe that black girls’ voices don’t matter. You have these black women who are speaking out and the reason they didn’t speak out before is because they always thought their voices didn’t matter. For two years while I was making this documentary, I was constantly drilling in their head that their story does matter. I told them they’re not only healing themselves by telling the story, but they’ll also help someone else to not be in the same situation that they’re in. It has to be stopped and the only way it’ll stop is for it to be told.

There’s a lot of encouraging and motivation I had to give to them, even today. I talk with them every day and some of them are still struggling. They have good days and bad days. I encourage them on their good days and bad days as well. There’s strength in numbers. I told them they may not have known each other prior to this story, but it does something to be able to say he didn’t just do this to me. He did it to all of us. Sometimes, if you’re silent, you’re thinking why would he do this to me I’m such a great person or I really loved him. You’re thinking it’s something you did, but then you realize it’s not something you did it’s just the way he is, then you start to have a clear conscious about yourself.

MillBuzz: After a sexual assault lawsuit was filed years ago, a video was posted of R. Kelly saying, “I’m handcuffed by my destiny. It’s too late. They should’ve did this sh** 30-years-ago.” How does that statement make you feel and why?

Simmons: That’s why we put it in the documentary to show the arrogance and confidence that he has in regard to anything that anybody says negative about him. He just showed the world the arrogance and that he thinks he’s invincible. There are a lot of people who want to prove that he’s not invincible and he can’t and won’t continue to do this and we need to take our daughters back.

MillBuzz: Why was this documentary so important to you?

Simmons: Because these women never told their stories before and then you had two families, the Savage’s and the Clary’s, who were fighting for their daughters whether a camera was on them or not. Still today they’re fighting to get their daughters back and for their daughters to actually just look their way and talk to them. As you’ve heard they weren’t able to see them in court when they were there, so it’s very important for me to reunite these girls with their parents and also so the survivors can heal on their own.

Like I said no one would believe them. That’s why you have Lizzette, a victim from 1995, coming forward in 2018. People were saying why come forward now, but the question is “Why not now?” If there are certain organizations like Color of Change and the #MeToo movement and #MuteRKelly, and all these movements and people who would support you, why not come out when there’s people to support you. I believe now was the best time for them.

MillBuzz: Was there ever a moment that caused you to have second thoughts about this project? If so, can you tell us about it?

Simmons: Only every day. Even when it aired, I was saying I’m not going to look… I can’t watch. I felt like the world was watching me watch the documentary. It was just an eerie feeling, even though I was there. I didn’t know what people would say and I was really worried about the survivors because I’d encouraged them for a year and a half to continue to be strong. I was thinking if the world would be against them, then what more could I say to them so they’d continue to believe that they did the right thing.

A lot of my fear and anxiety was based on how they’d feel. Some of them had mixed feelings and told us they wish we’d kept some things in, but when you have 50 people you’re interviewing for a documentary, everything can’t stay. In the end, we overcame those hurdles and now they feel like justice is finally going to be done. They have hope in the justice system. The documentary starts in the 90s because we wanted to show how his power grew. He picked girls who had a certain look, or who parents may not have been well off, and they were talented. There was a system in place that he used to draw these women in. 

MillBuzz: Some of the women said they’ve received death threats after the documentary aired, have you received any backlash? If so, how do you handle it without letting it effect you?

Simmons: Every now and then someone would say I’m trying to be a Modern Day Mortal. They weren’t using it correctly, but I knew what they meant. They were trying to say I’m trying to be a hero, but these survivors are heroes to me. When people tweet or post for me to leave him alone or saying I’m trying to take a black man down, it doesn’t bother me because I know where my heart is and I know this was a mission for me to be able to do a service for my black community. Whatever I receive I’ve already strengthened myself throughout the process to be able to withstand it. I don’t walk around with fear. I think my family wish I had more fear, but I don’t. I tell them, “I just did a documentary, I’m not going to court or anything like that, I’m just supporting the ladies.” I tell everyone if they want to protect me, just say extra prayers for me.

MillBuzz: Are there more women we haven’t heard from? If so, do you plan to tell their story as well?

Simmons: There are women who have contacted me, not just in relation to R. Kelly, but wanting to tell their story about their own sexual abuse. I think I’ve become an advocate for survivors. I didn’t realize the impact this documentary would have. People were coming forward and sharing how they were able to sit with their dad and tell him about things that happened to them 10 years ago because of the documentary. There are a lot of women being healed and a lot of families sitting down having conversations. I don’t know if there will be a follow-up. I would love to follow-up so people can see how the survivors are doing later on.

We did have women who came forward and they just weren’t ready to tell their story publicly, but they did help with collaborating and saying, “Yeah that’s true. That happened to me,” and that kind of stuff. I don’t know if those women would ever want to come forward because they’ve seen some of the backlash that some of the survivors received. I tell them as long as they heal on their own or seek therapy on their own, or they can call me and I’ll help them find someone, it doesn’t have to be in front of the camera or for a TV show.

MillBuzz: Why was it important to include his brother in the documentary and not just the victims?

Simmons: It was important to show his background and where he came from. His brother was there to tell us about his childhood and how he worked with him. It was so everyone could see the history and how R. Kelly was raised, and the things they liked to do.

MillBuzz: It was reported that R. Kelly’s music downloads increased after the documentary aired. Were you shocked by that?

Simmons: I wasn’t shocked, I think it increased because people were going back and listening to lyrics because we referenced them so much in the documentary. I think people were like, “What? Is that what he meant when he said put my key in the ignition? Is that what he’s referring to?” He still got dropped so I don’t think it was enough capital for them to keep pushing and trying to sell a new album. I think he posted about his new music but there’s no platform for him to put in on. Some people didn’t know who R. Kelly was either. So, I think they were educating themselves on his music, as well.

MillBuzz: What’s next for Tamra? Any upcoming projects you can tell us about?

Simmons: I have another project that’s near and dear to my heart. It’s going to be focused in Atlanta. It’s going to be another docuseries or documentary bringing a lot of awareness to the black community. I can’t really speak that much on it but it’s on social justice and how it affects our community and our black men. When people say I’m trying to bring a black man down, I tell them I’m actually trying to save a black man’s life, but in the case of R. Kelly, it was black women. But in the next project, it’ll be black men.

MillBuzz: Thank you so much for your time and congratulations on all of your hard work. Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Simmons: Thank you. This was definitely a team effort. Everyone says, “This is your baby you have to own it,” but I tell them this is all of us. I could not have done it by myself. I thank Dream Hampton, Jesse Daniels, Joel Karsberg, Brie Bryant from Lifetime— they have been amazing helping me to stay sane during this project.

I would also like to thank everyone for their support and please continue to support the survivors. If there are any women or men who have been in any type of situation, there are so many outlets. They can always reach out to me and I can put them in contact with specialist who’ll be able to help with whatever type of abuse they’ve suffered.  

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