All Def Digital, a YouTube channel founded by Russell Simmons and AwesomenessTV founder Brian Robbins, may serve as the perfect example of how NOT to launch a big-budget YouTube channel.
The new channel, which focuses on “urban” content, launched this week with a wide variety of videos; including spoken word poetry, music videos, and trailers for upcoming comedy series’ on the channel. However, all eyes are on just one video: The ’Harriet Tubman Sex Tape.’
Starring YouTube musician DeStorm Power, and comedians Shanna Malcolm and Jason Horton, the video attempts to make light of Harriet Tubman‘s plight by suggesting that she used sex and blackmail to her advantage while undergoing her courageous work. If you need a primer on Tubman, here’s a good place to start.
The video description suggests this is an, “outlandish and irreverent historical reenactment… Harriet Tubman’s S*x Tape is the off-record account of how Harriet Tubman blackmailed her master into letting her run the Underground Railroad!” However, in reality, the video is an offensive and ignorant portrayal of a civil war hero with a comedic undertone that’s harder to find than water in a desert.
The video was pulled just hours after it was released after Twitter and the Blogosphere lit up with criticism of the video. But, this being the internet and all, here’s a mirror:
From the outset I will say that I disagree with the stance many critics like Clutch Magazine’s Britini Danielle are taking. I do not see this video as a racist scheme to perpetuate the negative portrayal of black people in the media. Rather, it’s an incredibly poorly written video which should never have been made, much less seen the light of day.
The one point I agree with every critic on, however, is that Tubman’s portrayal in the video is an affront to a great woman who personally freed hundreds of slaves, and devised methods which ensured freedom for thousands more. To paint her as a scheming Jezebel who sought after sex with her ‘massa’ (regardless of the ends) serves only to mock the shockingly frequent use of rape as a tool to control slaves. There are too many unsavory undertones in the video to begin to broach this as a subject.
Even if the sketch were funny (which, I must stress once again, it was not), these are things that cannot be forgiven. Slavery was a true horror of our society. It, and the methods through which it was resisted and abolished need to be understood and respected; not derided for the sake of a few views.
Russell Simmons has also personally come under fire for endorsing the video, tweeting “Funniest thing i’ve ever seen…” with a link to the video. However, the blame for this monstrosity lies solely with the writers and producers, and I join the call for a formal apology from Rush Communications.
The actors in the sketch have also come under fire for their role in this monstrosity. While I admit to cringing hard at the ‘coon’ casting of DeStorm Power, one of the most influential (not the mention, one of the few successful…) black people on YouTube, I’d like to believe this was a sketch that missed its mark, and not something more nefarious.
Actors Shanna Malcolm and Jason Horton have acted in similar sketches before, and the result is usually hilarious:
With YouTube becoming more and more mainstream every day, dare I say it may be time to take a page out of Hollywood’s playbook and have YouTubers, and their representatives, take a much more considered approach in selecting their roles. As big-money and old media continues to make its way onto YouTube, they will continue to rope in veterans of the platform like DeStorm and have them appear in poorly thought-out sketches like this.
This mishap is sure to affect the upcoming All Def Digital (ADD) YouTube Network. Simmons and Robbins have been vocal in their plans to emulate the success of teenybopper-interest network AwesomenessTV for ADD’s “Urban” demographic. The AwesomenessTV network was sold for $33 Million in cash in May, with a promise of an additional $120 million in cash if performance targets are met in 2015.
A network aimed at black people attempting to launch by mocking the most culturally traumatic event in modern history is an error on a scale that can only be summed up by Ms. Tubman herself:
“I freed a thousand slaves. I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves.”
– Harriet Tubman