“Documentaries are sexy now in a way they weren’t too long ago,” said executive producer Brie Miranda Bryant.
If the Harvey Weinstein revelations were a watershed moment in Hollywood, the R. Kelly documentary was a deluge.
The Lifetime film Surviving R. Kelly was the center point of discussion at A+E and The Hollywood Reporter‘s annual Women in Global Entertainment lunch at this year’s MIPCOM. It not only spurred federal charges against the singer and changed the conversation globally around sexual violence, but also helped reinvigorate investigative journalism and films.
“Documentaries are sexy now in a way they weren’t too long ago,” said executive producer Brie Miranda Bryant. The Emmy-nominated film has been streamed 26 million times on the Lifetime platform alone.
Fellow executive producer dream hampton was clear that she approached the topic with purpose. She modeled the investigation after another impactful film, Blackfish, 2015’s documentary about killer whales kidnapped from the wild and kept in captivity. It put her off SeaWorld for good. “That stayed with me, and I wanted to produce something that had those kinds of details that stay with the viewer,” she said.
The details were, of course, harrowing — yet similar across stories. What made the doc so compelling is a symptom of women’s stories not being believed. “You almost have to find a chorus of women, dozens of women saying the same thing to even have it taken seriously,” said hampton.
It’s been just over two years since the first allegations against Weinstein surfaced. Things have started to shift with the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements since then, but men are beginning to give “light blowback,” said hampton. Being afraid to have a business lunch with a woman, which has been advised by some Wall Street firms, are just excuses, she says: “They’re tiptoeing around it, as if the real problem is men being falsely accused.”
Film and TV sets can apply practical steps, especially in work contracts, said hampton: “If a light should fall, literally the gaffer has more protection than women do against sexual harassment. If we could take the safety from being sexually harassed as seriously as we take other kinds of safety, that would be a huge change for the industry.”
She also praised comedian Aziz Ansari for the way he has handled his comeback following misconduct allegations, but called out Louis C.K. for “hiding in your apartment for a month and then trying to make a comeback.”
The success has changed Lifetime’s unscripted strategy, and the network now has 10 documentaries in the works, including a second part of the Kelly investigation and the upcoming Surviving Jeffrey Epstein.
Added Bryant: “In our culture right now, we’re in such a state of uncertainty period, and in periods of great instability people crave truth and honesty, and so we have seen a change in unscripted. I think the door is cracked, and everyone in this room needs to continue to bust it open.”