As Lifetime’s Surviving R. Kelly has become a cultural phenomenon in the early days of 2019, it’s launched a lot of conversations about a great deal of important issues, from the enabling of the singer by the media to the discounting of accusations that come from young black girls to how wrong it is to refer to the videotape of Kelly with underaged girls as a “sex tape.”
But one fascinating side note from the documentary is the John Legend angle. Legend, producer dream hampton said last week, was the only A-list entertainer who agreed to participate in the documentary, while many others, including Jay-Z and Questlove, declined to. In the film, Legend expressed regret for having worked with Kelly.
But then another narrative emerged about Legend: That he was somehow hypocritical, because the singer had been pictured along with former movie producer and many-times-accused sexual predator Harvey Weinstein.
This has been a frequent talking point, throughout the #MeToo movement, especially from those with a political axe to grind with certain celebrities, and even with politicians like Hillary Clinton. How can they talk about harassment or misconduct, when they once appeared on the same red carpet, or the same political fundraiser, as one of the great harassers of all time?
Legend responded forcefully.
“I took a photo with and worked with Harvey on several occasions before his abuse was known to me and the rest of the world,” Legend wrote on Twitter in response to the questions. “Since his being exposed, his company and career have rightfully been destroyed and he’s been indicted. Sounds like something that should happen to R Kelly.
This isn’t the first time Legend has been questioned about a Harvey Weinstein picture. Nearly exactly a year ago, a Pizzagate conspiracy theorist named Liz Crokin posted the photos, while also noting that Legend’s wife, model Chrissy Teigen, had tweeted a pizza emoji and their child in a Halloween costume, in order to imply that the famous couple was part of a pedophilia ring.
“You need to take my family’s name out of your mouth before you get sued,” Legend tweeted at Crokin, who was later permanently banned from Twitter.
Indeed, there’s quite a big difference between the two cases. It’s often been alleged that, in the entertainment industry, “everyone knew” about Harvey Weinstein. But that’s not quite true. It would be more accurate to say that some people knew some things. Other people had heard rumors about other things. Weinstein’s reputation, prior to the 2017 exposes, was that of a successful movie producer who was also something of a bully, and who often went out of his way to destroy those who crossed him. But he certainly wasn’t widely known as a sexual predator.
R. Kelly, by contrast, had proclivities that were well known to the general public for a very long time. There was literally a videotape of him committing sex crimes with an underaged girl, one that was widely viewed and even sold on street corners, and that was in 2002. The singer had a high-profile trial, and that was in 2008. The “everyone knew, all along” talking point wasn’t true of Weinstein, but it was absolutely true of Kelly.
The Legend/Weinstein picture also illustrates another unfortunate tendency, which forms a key tenant of Pizzagate and other fact-free conspiracy theories: The idea that if Person A has had their picture taken with Person B, Person A instantly becomes both knowledgable and complicit in every single bad act ever committed by Person B. This isn’t how it works; red carpet photos are not mind melds.
John Legend has every reason to regret his past association with R. Kelly, and he has expressed that regret, in a way that few other major celebrities have. But he’s in no way a hypocrite for once having had his picture taken with Harvey Weinstein.
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