Freedom Rider: Sex Tapes and Butlers
by BAR editor and senior columnist Margaret Kimberley
Racist propaganda comes in many forms, and from many sources. Russell Simmons and Lee Daniels are well-paid Black purveyors of the anti-Black propaganda arts. Daniel’s turns history and truth on its head in The Butler, while Russell Simmons depicts Harriet Tubman as a whore who turns tricks for freedom.
Freedom Rider: Sex Tapes and Butlers
by BAR editor and senior columnist Margaret Kimberley
“The fact that Simmons chose to make Harriet Tubman a character in a porno reveals much about him, his feelings about black people and his high regard of white people.”
On August 14, 2013, Russell Simmons posted these words on twitter: “Funniest thing I’ve ever seen Harriet tubmans [sic] sex diary.” Those are words guaranteed to catch one’s attention, the way a bomb going off gets attention. Simmons wasn’t lying or joking either. His latest entertainment venture, All Def Digital, had in fact produced something he called The Harriet Tubman Sex Tape. For the worst and most despicable reasons possible, Mr. Simmons chose to commit a character assassination of Harriet Tubman, one of the greatest in the pantheon of black American heroes. By extension he defamed not only Tubman, but all black people and perpetrated the worst slanders used against black women. The fact that Simmons chose to make Harriet Tubman a character in a porno reveals much about him, his feelings about black people and his high regard of white people.
One might conclude that Simmons is nothing more than clueless and ignorant of the history of this country and of his people. Yet his treachery shows something far worse than obvious misogyny, self-hatred and stupidity. This so-called parody existed because Simmons determined that the path to success must go straight through the heart of our heritage and bring down a woman whose actions were above reproach. Simmons obviously believes that his success depends on black people being demeaned and willing to laugh about it.
Simmons claims that he wanted to show Tubman “turning the tables” on the slave master. The vulgar and stupid impresario, entrepreneur, mogul doesn’t even know why Harriet Tubman is so revered. By first stealing herself away from the chattel slavery system and then taking hundreds of other people from their slave owners, she turned the tables quite adroitly, all without having sex with anyone. She followed up her individual feats of bravery when she led a Union attack on Confederate forces near the Combahee River in South Carolina in 1863, the only woman to have led an army into battle in the Civil War.
“Simmons obviously believes that his success depends on black people being demeaned and willing to laugh about it.“
In Simmons’ turgid imagination, the woman who John Brown referred to as “General Tubman” becomes nothing more than a whore. An enslaved woman had no means by which she might empower herself. She had no control over her body and thus no control over her sexuality. She could be forced to have sex with any white man or even with a black man when slave holders wanted to create more babies and thus more profit. For Harriet Tubman to have overcome these circumstances with her bravery and genius, only to be depicted as a woman who enjoys having sex with her slave holder is the worst thing that any black person might do to her memory.
Black people should have had nothing worse than Russell Simmons to contend with, but he chose to do his dirty work in the same week that another awful depiction was unleashed by Hollywood. Lee Daniels’ The Butler is a train wreck of a film which leaves a bad taste for anyone even dimly aware of the basic facts of American history.
The Butler is a fictionalized account of the life of Eugene Allen, a man who served as a White House butler from the Harry Truman through Ronald Reagan administrations. This story could be interesting on many levels but in the hands of the ham fisted and black hating Daniels the civil rights movement is in the end just a useful backdrop for absolving white people of any guilt.
Daniels does know what makes for an engaging film and it is this skill that makes The Butler so insidious. He cleverly depicts how the lead character, named Cecil Gaines for the purposes of the movie, must escape from the cruelty of Jim Crow era South, where America’s apartheid took shape. Most of the black actors in the film are talented and popular audience favorites. The combination of seeing our experiences validated in an entertaining film guarantees box office success.
“Lee Daniels’ The Butler is a train wreck of a film which leaves a bad taste for anyone even dimly aware of the basic facts of American history.”
It is true to this very day that black people show two faces, or in the case of people like the Gaines character, only one face, not being allowed to be fully human when interacting with white people who have power over them. Having seen lynching and terror, Gaines is fearful for himself and for his son who chooses to be in the forefront of the black freedom movement.
What might have made for an intriguing dynamic is turned into a hodge podge of phony hopefulness about how the “good negro” inspires white people to do the right thing. Movies of course depend on some degree of dramatic license. But it is absurd in the extreme for the Gaines character to literally be serving breakfast to presidents and their top staff people as they discuss what to do in Little Rock, Selma or Birmingham.
Every president in the movie confesses his sins to the magical Cecil and then tries his best to help the Negro. In fact, however much or little any of these presidents did was dependent upon the intensity of the struggle among the masses of people and not by their liking of any domestic worker. Yet the Lee Daniels butler inspires Eisenhower to send troops to integrate Central High School in Little Rock. John F. Kennedy spent most of his term in office looking for ways to placate the Dixiecrats. He and his brother Robert were opposed to the March on Washington and any other actions that might force them to do the right thing. As for the Freedom Riders, Kennedy asked an aide, “Can’t you get your goddamned friends off those buses?” In the end he was forced by the demands made in the streets to finally give a speech in support of a civil rights bill.
The movie does tell some historic truth but with an underlying message that political action is acceptable only within very narrow parameters. The son in the film goes on a journey from the lunch counter sit-ins to the Freedom Rides to the Black Panthers. Daniels should have just left the Panthers alone instead of depicting them as disrespectful young people who never remove their black berets and give offense at the dinner table. But he couldn’t leave the Panthers alone. If white people can be appeased with the right attitude there is no need for radical politics to be taken seriously. The Black Panthers also have to be brought low in the popular consciousness of a Lee Daniels movie.
Not only are white people made good if the black people around them are silent enough, but the black people in Daniels world don’t amount to much. Their relaxation time is spent drinking and dancing and cheating on their spouses, while at work they tell dirty jokes in mixed company and get angry if a co-worker gets a perk. No wonder white people have to be coaxed into helping them.
“Daniels should have just left the Panthers alone instead of depicting them as disrespectful young people who never remove their black berets and give offense at the dinner table.”
They live happily ever after because Barack Obama is elected president of the United States at the movie’s end. All is well in Daniels land where eventually the right kind of protest brings white acceptance and a black face in the highest place.
Lee Daniels and Russell Simmons are also in high places. They get the deals to create images of black life because they can be replied upon to do the right thing by white people. Russell Simmons is a bottom feeder who didn’t even know how to be smooth with his slander. Lee Daniels is made of sterner stuff and knows what black people want to see. We want to see black people on screen who do great things even if it is just getting a raise for the domestic help or sneering at the struggles of young people when they try to change the system.
After being properly scolded for the sex tape horror, Simmons removed the sex tape from his site and now says he has plans to produce biographies of Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass. He probably has no real interest in doing this but for the sake of argument he must be treated as if he does. He can’t be trusted with our image ever again and must never be allowed to live down this shameful episode.
Daniels will probably get more movie deals and more opportunities to create outwardly uplifting fare that is in reality anything but. He is equally untrustworthy but more dangerous. He is after all the man who gave us Precious.
Black celebrities cannot be given a pass to treat us any way they want but the yearning for black success is still quite strong. As with politicians and other misleaders, they get consideration where none is deserved. Hopefully there will be no more black historical figures in sex tapes or white people being given phony and undue credit, at least not for a while. Two such episodes in one week is simply too much.
Margaret Kimberley's Freedom Rider column appears weekly in BAR, and is widely reprinted elsewhere. She maintains a frequently updated blog as well as at http://freedomrider.blogspot.com. Ms. Kimberley lives in New York City, and can be reached via e-Mail at Margaret.Kimberley(at)BlackAgendaReport.com.