A church group is calling out Carnival Cruise Line after they say a DJ refused to stop playing R. Kelly songs in the ship’s nightclub, despite complaints, and mocking passengers.
According to a blog post on RevGalBlogPals, an online community for clergywomen, on Jan. 6, a group of 63 women who hold various positions in the Christian ministry boarded an 8-day cruise on the ship Carnival Magic. The trip was meant to foster “fellowship and professional development,” the post states.
On the second night of their cruise, several women from the group went to a nightclub on the ship and the DJ (DJ Bl4ck Zoe) reportedly began to play “Bump N’ Grind” by R. Kelly, Reverend Julia Seymour tells PEOPLE.
Kelly is currently being investigated for alleged sexual misconduct, after a Lifetime documentary, Surviving R.Kelly, featured interviews with several women who claim that Kelly used his power and influence to sexually and physically abuse women and young girls.
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In an interview with the Associated Press on Jan. 11, the singer’s Chicago-based attorney Steve Greenberg called the documentary “disgusting” and inaccurate. He further claimed that producers told “disgruntled” women what to say about Kelly off camera in an effort to incriminate the Grammy winner — a charge that the producers deny.
After the group heard Kelly’s music on the cruise, they claim they went to the DJ booth and asked him to change the song, which they said offended several members of their group as well as “more than a dozen others in the nightclub.”
Instead of paying attention to our requests to switch the song, the DJ began singing, dancing, and taunting us,” says one member of the group, who wished to remain anonymous.
The women decided to leave the venue, but encountered the same DJ in a different part of the ship later that night, she says. There, “he responded to an attempt to address the situation by singing the same song, dancing, and mocking the group again.”
DJ Bl4ck Zoe did not respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.
Reverend Teri Peterson of the Church of Scotland, who was in the nightclub with the group, told The Scotsman that in order to avoid further issues, on another outing, “they went before his shift began and were packing up to leave when he arrived.”
At that time, she says, “He played and sang along to Blurred Lines while looking at them.” The lyrics of that song, by Robin Thicke, have also been the subject of controversy, as some claim they perpetuate rape culture.
After the anonymous passenger filed a written complaint to guest services requesting that the DJ be removed from his job in the club, Peterson claims security was called on them to “quiet our voices.”
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“There has been marked implicit and explicit bias at play here, most specifically around race and assault survivorship,” the anonymous woman tells PEOPLE. (The blog post on RevGalBlogPals notes that the nine women who initially approached the DJ were black.)
Peterson also raises this issue. “The response of the management on the ship was lackluster until the white women in our group also got involved,” the reverend, who is white, told The Scotsman.
Members of the group spent the next five days of their trip emailing Carnival and holding meetings with officials on the ship to call for better training of employees, removal of “offensive and triggering” music from the ship’s playlist, and compensation for the time they spent pursuing these issues instead of enjoying their vacation as planned, according to the blog post.
On the fifth day of their eight-night cruise, the blog post claims the DJ was removed from his role for the rest of the trip, but Carnival reportedly refused to remove R. Kelly’s music from their playlists because, they said, the Carnival Cruise Line corporation decides which songs are played on all 26 of their vessels.
Carnival also credited each woman involved in the incident $100.
But the clergy group was not satisfied with the ship’s resolution, and called for the brand to reimburse the expenses of the nine black women in their group specifically, who they say were “directly impacted by the actions of the DJ and inadequate and hostile customer ‘care’ from Guest Services and the Music Manager.”
“Unfortunately, for nine of us who identify as black women, our time aboard the Carnival Magic was colored by our experiences of taunting and discrimination at the hand of the ship’s employees,” the blog post reads.
They also requested a public apology to their group, and the removal of the music in question from all of their playlists to “advocate for the rights and positive experiences of all guests.”
“The crew admittedly did not understand why playing songs glorifying sexual violence, supporting an artist who was (and still is) in the news for assaults on (mostly) black women and girls, and not taking into account how inattention to current events can be problematic or harmful for guests until we explained it,” the post details.
The anonymous group member tells PEOPLE, “The moment they failed to proactively and compassionately reply to complaints addressing concerns around race, gender, and survivorship, Carnival showed there are limitations to who is actually included in their vision for inclusivity.
She adds that the company implied the guests should not “question their record relating to diversity.”
A representative for Carnival tells PEOPLE in a statement that the cruise line does not “make a habit of banning music” on board their ships.
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“We had a small group of guests who took issue with two songs that our DJ was playing in a nightclub well after midnight,” the representative said. “While we only play radio versions of popular music that have been sanitized so that offensive language has been removed, we do not make a habit of banning music as we have a broad cross section of guests.”
“Our shipboard team listened to the concerns of these guests and provided a goodwill gesture,” the spokesperson continued. “We are proud of the many ways we’ve been recognized for our commitment to diversity and inclusion and every day we work to make sure our guests and crew feel welcome and part of the Carnival family. We’re sorry this group feels otherwise.”
If you or someone you know think they are being abused, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE) or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY) now for anonymous, confidential help, available 24/7.
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