The offensive Harriet Tubman video Russell Simmons produced and then removed

Picture 241I know. It sounds like a great idea. A comedic reenactment of Harriet Tubman, which includes sex scenes between the leader of the Underground Railroad and her master. What could possible go wrong? Everything, obviously.

Less than one day after releasing this YouTube video about Harriet Tubman, All Def Digital (ADD), the creation of Russell Simmons and Awesomeness TV CEO Brian Robbin, removed it. In the video,  ADD History: Harriet Tubman Sex Tape, Harriet Tubman has sex with her slave owners, has her fellow slaves record it, and then uses the recording to blackmail the masters into setting the slaves free.

Simmons took to his website Global Grind  to apologize for the video:

In the whole history of Def Comedy Jam, I’ve never taken down a controversial comedian. When my buddies from the NAACP called and asked me to take down the Harriet Tubman video from the All Def Digital YouTube channel and apologize, I agreed.

I’m a very liberal person with thick skin. My first impression of the Harriet Tubman piece was that it was about what one of actors said in the video, that 162 years later, there’s still tremendous injustice. And with Harriet Tubman outwitting the slave master? I thought it was politically correct. Silly me.  I can now understand why so many people are upset.  I have taken down the video. Lastly, I would never condone violence against women in any form, and for all of those I offended, I am sincerely sorry.

It’s hard to see how Simmons failed to anticipate the reaction the video would provoke. Clutch Magazine goes through the litany of problems in the video. Sometimes people use shocking and disturbing tactics to make a powerful political statement. Sometimes, like in the case of good satire, people use seemingly offensive humor to make a statement which undercuts the offensive message. This is not one of those times.


Born and raised on the mean streets of New York City’s Upper West Side, Katie Halper is a comic, writer, blogger, satirist and filmmaker based in New York. Katie graduated from The Dalton School (where she teaches history) and Wesleyan University (where she learned that labels are for jars.) A director of Living Liberally and co-founder/performer in Laughing Liberally, Katie has performed at Town Hall, Symphony Space, The Culture Project, D.C. Comedy Festival, all five Netroots Nations, and The Nation Magazine Cruise, where she made Howard Dean laugh! and has appeared with Lizz Winstead, Markos Moulitsas, The Yes Men, Cynthia Nixon and Jim Hightower. Her writing and videos have appeared in The New York Times, Comedy Central, The Nation Magazine, Gawker, Nerve, Jezebel, the Huffington Post, Alternet and Katie has been featured in/on NY Magazine, LA Times, In These Times, Gawker,Jezebel, MSNBC, Air America, GritTV, the Alan Colmes Show, Sirius radio (which hung up on her once) and the National Review, which called Katie “cute and some what brainy.” Katie co-produced Tim Robbins’s film Embedded, (Venice Film Festival, Sundance Channel); Estela Bravo’s Free to Fly (Havana Film Festival, LA Latino Film Festival); was outreach director for The Take, Naomi Klein/Avi Lewis documentary about Argentine workers (Toronto & Venice Film Festivals, Film Forum); co-directed New Yorkers Remember the Spanish Civil War, a video for Museum of the City of NY exhibit, and wrote/directed viral satiric videos including Jews/ Women/ Gays for McCain.

Katie is a writer, comedian, filmmaker, and New Yorker.

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