Tag Archives: comedy

The Rape of Harriet Tubman

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By Guest Contributor Janell Hobson; originally published at Ms. Magazine blog

This year marked the 100th anniversary of the passing of Harriet Tubman. I had the opportunity to celebrate that fact when organizing a special symposium back in March, resulting in some thought-provoking critical papers on her legacy of resistance, which I’m currently guest-editing for Meridians: Feminism, Race, Transnationalism.

One of the more interesting conversations that came out of this event questioned why, on the anniversary of her death, we have yet to experience an epic cinematic treatment of her life.  She certainly qualified for that great Hollywood biopic. Against all odds, as a disabled enslaved woman, she escaped to freedom–having learned of the Underground Railroad network that included support from black and white allies–and once she made it to the other side returned to slavery 17 more times to free countless other slaves.

Tubman used all sorts of wit and trickery to enable her dangerous journey in this secretive network, and even believed in her divine right and power to engage in liberation. She collaborated with John Brown on the raid at Harper’s Ferry, recruiting slaves for the project, but her illness at the time prevented her from taking part in the uprising. During the Civil War, she served as a Union army spy, nurse and soldier, and in 1863, she led a successful military campaign on Combahee River in South Carolina, resulting in the liberation of 750 slaves.

In short, she’s the stuff of legend–for black history, women’s history, American history. The fictional Django from Django Unchained ain’t got nothing on her!

But on the year of her centennial anniversary, what does Tubman get instead of the great Hollywood biopic? She gets a “sex tape.”

You read that correctly. Recently, in an internet launch of his new YouTube channel, All Def Digital, rap media mogul Russell Simmons featured a failed comedic video titled Harriet Tubman Sex Tape–the first in the line-up of this new series. It didn’t take long for black audiences on social media to utterly denounce this video and petition against it. Within 24 hours, Simmons removed the video from his channel and issued this apology:

My first impression of the Harriet Tubman piece was that it was about what one of the 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.

It is amazing that Simmons could not have predicted the outrage upon seeing such a video–which infers that, in order to build an Underground Railroad network to free the slaves, Tubman basically used blackmail against her white slaveowner by conniving with a fellow male slave to create a “sex tape” of their sexual encounter that she could later use as “leverage.” Then again, this is what porn culture will do to one’s perspective–something Simmons has perpetuated in his decades-long involvement with sexist rap music and culture.

Just reading the video’s premise was enough to make my blood boil, but sometimes, especially when you do media analysis as part of your scholarship, you just have to be a witness. So I viewed the video, and I don’t believe I am exaggerating when I say that, on this centennial anniversary, Harriet Tubman got raped.

Most of Tubman’s biographers have argued that there is no documentation that Tubman experienced sexual abuse while enslaved.  She was definitely physically abused–routinely beaten, and at one point as an adolescent suffered a head injury caused by an overseer who threw a two-pound weight against her head, breaking her skull and nearly killing her. The injury impacted her throughout her 91 years of life, as she was often given to sleeping spells (which Tubman claimed brought on various dreams and prophetic visions).

Slavery was “hell,” Tubman described in her narrative, dictated to Sarah Bradford since she could neither read nor write. She experienced a great deal of trauma while enslaved, but if there were any experiences with rape–which marked the experiences of far too many enslaved women–Tubman remained silent on the issue. It’s still also possible that, as hellish as her experience might have been, she was spared from a deeper hell that sexual violence brings to the picture. Which is why Simmons’ “sex tape” adds insult to injury.

It’s a hell of a sobering reality to realize that, 100 years after Tubman’s passing, our porn culture–intertwined inextricably with rape culture–would produce such a demeaning narrative about one of our great American heroes. It happened not because there is any basis in history for such an imagined scenario (Tubman simply would not engage in sexual leverage–it’s not part of the essence of who she was) but because our culture continues to trivialize rape (which is what we must categorize any unequal encounter between a slaveowner and slave, regardless of “consent”) and debase women’s experiences.  Ironically, the horrendous truth about sex tapes is that they tend to be used as leverage not against men but against women! It is women who are often blackmailed or demeaned when sex tapes are made available on the Internet. Women are the ones who have everything to lose, considering the slut-shaming that still clings to female sexuality. Sure, some celebrities might parlay such “porn” videos into a career, but the intention of sex tapes is public humiliation.

The Harriet Tubman Sex Tape publicly humiliates one of our great icons, and if she–whom many believe is inviolable, sacred, untouchable–can be debased, then not one of us is safe.

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Two People I Dislike Immensely Unshockingly Do Something I Dislike Immensely

by Joseph Lamour

*Warning: Strong Language*

We’re living in an age where almost everything a person shares with their friends can now be permanently filed away on a server somewhere (in a room, not unlike where Olivia and Fitz like to make out, but that’s for another post). For some people, this permanence proves especially problematic. Laura Beck over at Jezebel rightly filed this story under “WTF”, and seriously, WTF, Lisa Lampanelli?

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Is It A Good Time To Be ‘Black & Sexy’?

by Guest Contributor Aymar Jean Christian, originally published at Televisual

In one episode of Black & Sexy TV’s The Couple, Dude and Chick bicker over space in their small bathroom. In another they have a tit-for-tat over what side dishes to order with lunch. Two people, one location and a common scenario comprise most episodes of The Couple.

“It’s about two people living together. Doesn’t matter what their names are. Doesn’t matter how old they are. Doesn’t matter where they live. They could be anybody,” creator Jeanine Daniels said when I met up with her and the Black & Sexy team in Los Angeles last month. “Anybody could relate to them.”

Welcome to black television during the rise of YouTube, or at least that’s the hope of Dennis Dortch, director of 2008′s A Good Day to Be Black & Sexy and creator of the YouTube channel Black & Sexy TV.

Television today is brimming with black sitcoms. TV Land just premiered The Soul Man with Cedric the Entertainer and Niecy Nash, new networks like Bounce TV are already showing original scripted programs and older networks like BET are ordering more (and more channels are premiering every year). None of these shows have been as buzzy or relevant as classic series from the Eighties and Nineties, from The Cosby Show to Martin. They’re passable and pleasurable, but few could be called new or innovative.

Maybe it’s because our 300-channel universe demands fresher, fleshier shows, and here the web is picking up steam. Web showrunners are innovating largely out of view of cable network executives, from the diverse oeuvre of Al Thompson to the roaring success of Issa Rae’s Awkward Black Girl, now releasing its second season on Pharrell’s premium iamOTHER channel.

Black & Sexy TV has spent the past year carving out a clear niche amidst rising competition among black web series: focusing on artsy realism that shares more in common with Louie than Let’s Stay Together.

“I really wanted to showcase black people in a certain way. Black is beautiful,” Dennis Dortch said. Continue reading

Web Series Spotlight: ’12 Steps’ Creator on Financing, Producing Independent Black Stories

By Guest Contributor Aymar Jean Christian, cross-posted from Televisual

If you pay attention to web shows by and about people of color, you probably have come across 12 Steps to Recovery, a romantic comedy series about Parrish Diaz, a jingle composer and actor dealing with a hard break-up. In the show, Parrish’s friends decide the only way he’ll get over his ex is to do a romantic “12 step” program: go on dates with 12 different women.

From Hitch and Knocked Up to The Best Man and (500) Days of Summer, romantic comedies about men have always been popular, if less so than female-driven ones. Producers see them as a good way to get a more balanced male-to-female ratio in your audience.

What makes 12 Steps to Recovery a little different is its use of Parrish’s story to showcase different kinds of women. Viewers end up learning more about the girls than the leading man. Each episode features a new date with a different kind of stock female trope, from transwomen to Southern belles. “Not all of us women are carrying baggage,” Parrish’s friend Dani says in one episode.

The series, which has a bunch of episodes released but is still in post-production for the remaining few, re-launched on KoldCast last month.

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For Your Black History Month: Real Housewives of Civil Rights

By Sexual Correspondent Andrea (AJ) Plaid

I guess I’m not the only one who found the solemnity-yet-randomness of the Black History Month Minutes in my youth a tad ridiculous.  I understood why the segments were needed and learned a lot from them–and still found my hand in front of my giggling mouth.  The comic troupe Elite Delta Force 3 may have felt the same way.

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Quoted: Adelina Anthony on Comedy as Resistance


Making queer Chicana experience comedic affirms our pains and glories – hijole, just the fact that we exist and thrive. If I flip the dynamic around and poke fun at whiteness or heterosexuality, that’s the work of resistance, because I’ve inverted the paradigm and I’m using comedy to laugh at those structures that work to make us invisible. Since I’m writing with a queer Chicana audience in mind, it’s meant for us. We recognize the stereotype[s] – even how we sometimes play into them ourselves. If I pole fun at lesbians of color (with a progressive agenda, of course), then it’s the work of healing – and that’s the best effect of laughing in a group setting. The roar of the audience on some jokes points to that collectivity of experience and culture.

—Adelina Anthony, Bitch Magazine “Sit Down Comedy” Fall 2009 issue.

Arr the Singre Ragies

by Guest Contributor Jen, originally published at Disgrasian

When I was at Yale, Mixed Company had the reputation of being the “funny singing group.” You know, as opposed to the “hot singing group” (that would have been the Baker’s Dozen, or the “BD’s” for men, and Something Extra, aka “Sextra,” for women) or the “serious singing group” (Red Hot + Blue) or the “angry feminist group” (The New Blue, to which I belonged).

But that was a long-ass time ago, kiddies. And my-oh-my how things have changed, as evidenced by Mixed Company’s current YouTube parody
of Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies”:

Does the world really need another “Single Ladies” spoof? Or, for that matter, more pedestrian rice jokes? Don’t get me wrong, we rove a good lice joke. And of coulse we rove it rong time. We just don’t rove these ones.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve gotta go make the rice and make it nice, and then shoot myself in the face for actually having to sit through that.