Early Thursday, Russell Simmons issued an apology for a parody Harriet Tubman “sex tape” video released hours earlier on his new All Def Digital YouTube channel.
Shock and anger over the video came swiftly from many who saw it before it was taken down – including, apparently, the NAACP. Critics called the video a desecration to the legendary abolitionist’s memory.
Simmons, founder of the hip-hop label Def Jam, wrote a lengthy apology for the video on
“In the whole history of Def Comedy Jam, I’ve never taken down a controversial comedian,” he wrote. “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 and it’s hard to offend me. 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 Harriet Tubman outwitting the slave master, I thought it was politically correct. Silly me.”
Simmons had tweeted about the video on Wednesday, noting that it was the “funniest thing I’ve ever seen.”
In the video, familiar YouTube actress Shanna Malcolm, as Tubman, has over-the-top, aggressive sex with her “Massa,” as she calls him, while a fellow slave records the carnal relations while hidden in the closet.
Tubman plans to use the sex tape to blackmail her white owner into letting her run the Underground Railroad, which the real-life Tubman used to lead hundreds of slaves to freedom.
"Are you sure this gon’ work, Ms. Harriet?," the slave asks Tubman.
"This our only chance to getting freedoms," she replies.
“You know I have a dark sense of humor but even Ize, oops I mean I can’t laugh at this,” wrote Kevin Ross on
Bloggers and Twitter users, who turned “Harriet Tubman” into a trending topic Wednesday night, were also quick to condemn the video.
“This should not be the way Harriet Tubman gets to trend,” tweeted A_Gallivant (@A_Gallivant).
“Is that why harriet tubman is trending i’m crying,” tweeted Ryan Smith (@RyanSmi24).
Even singer John Legend commented on Twitter: "Harriet Tubman?? Say it ain't so ..."
A petition started Wednesday at Change.org, signed by more than 600 people as of early Thursday, condemned the video, called for its removal and demanded an apology from Simmons. The petition read, in part:
“Not only does the Harriet Tubman ‘sex tape’ make a mockery of the history of transatlantic slavery, Harriet Tubman’s memory in particular and the painful reality of sexual exploitation and terror in the lives of enslaved women, but the video also contributes to rape culture by perpetuating the myth that women only ‘pretend’ not to enjoy being forced into having sex against their will.”
In his apology - posted under a headline reading "I Get It and I Respect It" - Simmons said he understood why so many people were upset.
“I have taken down the video,” he wrote. “Lastly, I would never condone violence against women in any form, and for all of those I offended, I am sincerely sorry.”
Some people seemed just as quick to forgive as they were to condemn. "We all make mistakes. We all do things someone may not like. But who is anyone to judge? You're still alright with me @UncleRUSH," tweeted one Simmons follower.
According to Variety, Simmons teamed with DreamWorks Animation’s AwesomenessTV to launch All Def Digital, a new YouTube channel that will feature urban music, comedy and All Def Poetry videos featuring spoken-word performances. The comedy programming will include "Blackie Sack," a parody about the first African-American hacky sack player.
Simmons said in a statement that YouTube provided the perfect platform to promote a new generation of "up-and-coming talent and the new art forms they create."
The "Harriet Tubman Sex Tape" was the first in a series of history-themed comedy sketches planned on the channel.
Coming later this week: "B-Rock," an animated series spoofing the "behind-the-scenes shenanigans" of President Obama as he and his “Commando in Chief alter ego, B-Rock, encounter an endless array of familiar characters.”