A New York screening of the Lifetime documentary “Surviving R. Kelly” was evacuated after “several anonymous threats were called in,” the network said.
Theater management at NeueHouse Madison Square evacuated the building after receiving a threatening phone call, a NYPD spokesperson told CNN.
An unknown caller said that if the film continued to play, someone inside the theater would start shooting, the spokesperson said.
“As a precaution, the network chose to evacuate the building. The safety and security of our panel, guests and staff is of paramount importance to Lifetime,” the network said.
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The threats were noncredible, a spokesperson for NeueHouse Madison Square said. “We followed appropriate safety protocols in collaboration with the NYPD and elected to postpone the event. We stand by the creative women bringing these heroic stories to light.”
Lifetime describes the forthcoming series as an investigation into the controversial singer in which women come forward “with new allegations of sexual, mental and physical abuse.”
Kelly has long been the subject of allegations of sexual abuse and mistreatment of women and girls. He has denied any wrongdoing and has not been charged with any crimes connected with the women’s allegations.
Those involved in the film and others in attendance called the threat an attempt to intimidate and silence Kelly’s accusers.
“Calling in a noncredible threat to the NYPD to interrupt our screening is an act of desperation from people who don’t want these truths shared with the world,” Executive Producer and Showrunner Dream Hampton said in an email to CNN.
“The survivors who bravely sat with me for this docuseries know all to well what R. Kelly is capable of, every one of them has stories of being abused and controlled by him.”
Some of those women were at the private screening, along with others who have come forward against Kelly in the past, said activist Tarana Burke, who appears in the film and was at the screening.
Also in attendance were Gretchen Carlson, who screened a trailer for her forthcoming Lifetime series, and several prominent writers and social media influencers including Jamilah Lemieux and Feminista Jones.
The evacuation came about 20 to 30 minutes into the screening, Burke told CNN. A Lifetime executive entered the theater with a security team and said they had received a threat.
As the attendees went outside, police were setting up a perimeter outside the venue, she said. Burke and others immediately began sharing news of the evacuation on social media.
“We don’t want whoever tries to intimidate us and shut the situation down to feel like they won, because the doc will air and the stories will be told,” she said.
“These women who come forward to tell their stories are innocent victims. They volunteered to put their lives on display — they don’t deserve this kind of harassment.”
Some of the women were visibly upset as they exited the venue, said civil rights lawyer Anurima Bhargava. The evacuation came at a point in the film where Kelly’s background is explored, and the mood inside the theater was somber.
Then, suddenly, the tone of the event became angry as attendees — many of whom had traveled from across the country — realized what was going on.
“This is the playbook. Every time you have voices come forward, there is this very strong effort to stop them,” she said. “It is a re-traumatization.”
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