WBEZ | Key and Peele http://www.wbez.org/tags/key-and-peele Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en The pop cultural trials of Harriet Tubman http://www.wbez.org/blogs/alison-cuddy/2013-08/pop-cultural-trials-harriet-tubman-108548 <p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/1478178288_c14a956fec_z.jpg" style="height: 400px; width: 300px; float: left;" title="A statue of Harriet Tubman is erected in Harlem in 2007. (Flickr/illdoggie2)" /></div>For a man who&rsquo;s had his finger on the pulse of pop culture for over thirty &nbsp;years - and in the process become almost as rich as Croesus (or Jay Z) - Russell Simons proved postively tone deaf when he put out the &ldquo;Harriet Tubman Sex Tape.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">Or not.</p><p dir="ltr">The sketch came out earlier this month, via Simmons&rsquo; new YouTube channel <a href="http://www.billboard.com/biz/articles/news/5650673/russell-simmons-announces-launch-of-all-def-digital-youtube-channel">All Def Digital</a>, a project that until then had been flying largely under the radar. Its premise is as absurd as it is anachronistic: The famed American abolitionist, seeking funds for her underground railroad, tries to blackmail her master by secretly videotaping them having sex together.</p><p dir="ltr">Horrified critics went to town on Simmons, suggesting he was abusing the image of an American idol while <a href="http://www.racialicious.com/2013/08/20/the-rape-of-harriet-tubman/">promoting rape culture. </a>Tubman&rsquo;s <a href="http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2013-08-21/features/bs-sc-insider-tubman-video-0825-20130821_1_parody-video-harriet-ross-tubman-slave">ancestors joined the chorus</a> demanding Simmons apologize and remove the video.</p><p dir="ltr">Simmons complied. Now, he&rsquo;s talking about making a biopic of Tubman. And as self-serving and ridiculous as that &nbsp;might sound,I actually think it&rsquo;s a good idea. Granted, Simmons may not be the best man for the job - the reaction to the Def Jam video makes clear the lines we draw around how we talk about the past - and who gets to speak, or even make fun. But he&rsquo;s not the first to do Tubman as comedy. That&rsquo;s actually been a bit of a trend recently.</p><p dir="ltr">Tubman&rsquo;s been portrayed as a <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lnZagD_jBH4">Black Moses Barbie</a> and serenaded as <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U5tAvZ_6t_g">The Sexiest Abolitionist.</a> In one of a series of sketches satirizing Black History Month, comedians Key and Peele imagine Tubman as <a href="http://www.comedycentral.com/video-collections/71aspq/key-and-peele-key---peele-celebrate-black-history/02tcql">&ldquo;the original free runner,</a>&rdquo; who helps runaway slaves escape through a series of parkour moves. And on the last season of <a href="http://www.avclub.com/articles/game-over,90564/"><em>30 Rock</em>,</a> Tracy Jordan tries to make a biopic of Tubman, only to be foiled by his lead, the actress Octavia Spencer, who redecorates his set in sixties modern style because she&rsquo;s not &ldquo;down with the whole cabin vibe&rdquo; and doesn&rsquo;t like Tubman&rsquo;s name because &ldquo;it sounds like a dude. Let&rsquo;s change it to Tubgirl.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">Like the Def Jam sketch, the humor of these parodies is in their portayal of a Tubman wildly and wilfully at odds with her historic deeds. But what separates them from the dreck Simmons put out is instead of just sending up Tubman, the <em>30 Rock</em> sketch and others skewer contemporary culture. I mean, what could this moment do with the woman who led hundreds of slaves to freedom <em>and</em> soldiers into battle for the Union <em>other</em> than turn her into an action movie heroine or reality TV show star?</p><p dir="ltr">That&rsquo;s not such a bad thing: Pop cultural depictions of Tubman, even comedic ones, can be as effective and respectful a way to honor her legacy as memorials or <a href="http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2013-03-09/news/sns-harriet-tubman-park_1_harriet-tubman-park-legislation-on-three-occasions-senator-benjamin-cardin">state parks</a>. And a comedy sketch is a lot more accessible. The problem isn&rsquo;t the portrayals per se, but that there are so few of them, well-done or otherwise. We celebrate Tubman as an American icon with an incredible (some say &ldquo;<a href="http://www.badassoftheweek.com/tubman.html">bad ass</a>&rdquo;) &nbsp;story. But there&rsquo;s not one serious biopic about her (other than a 1978 <a href="http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0078509/">made-for-TV movie </a>starring Cicely Tyson).</p><p dir="ltr">I don&rsquo;t believe, as some critics suggest, that&rsquo;s simply because we&rsquo;ve forgotten Tubman. I think we haven&rsquo;t quite figured out how to fit her - &nbsp;or this period of American history - into contemporary culture. That uneasy fit may explain these attempts at comedy - isn&rsquo;t laughter a way to confront or at least start talking about the things that make us uncomfortable, the things we&rsquo;d rather forget? That was certainly the case with <em>Django Unchained</em>, a film both reviled and championed that also got people talking about American slavery again.</p><p dir="ltr">That&rsquo;s one of the best powers of popular culture: Be it respectful or irreverent, salacious or studious, it has the potential to re-activate events that while still significant historically, may have lost some of their cultural force or relevance. And if the Def Jam sketch crossed the line or came <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/leighann-lord/harriet-tubman-sex-tape-t_b_3782072.html">&ldquo;too soon</a>&rdquo; (a premise that feels both odd and bittersweet in the year we mark the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation), there&rsquo;s plenty more where it came from. A <a href="http://blogs.indiewire.com/shadowandact/7-other-slave-themed-films-for-you-to-look-forward-to-this-year-2013">veritable slew of films and tv shows </a>about slavery come out this year.</p><p><em>Alison Cuddy is WBEZ&rsquo;s Arts and Culture reporter and co-host of <a href="https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/wbezs-changing-channels/id669715774?mt=2">Changing Channels,</a> a podcast about the future of television. Follow her on<a href="https://twitter.com/wbezacuddy"> Twitter</a>,<a href="https://www.facebook.com/cuddyalison?ref=tn_tnmn"> Facebook</a> and<a href="http://instagram.com/cuddyreport"> Instagram</a></em></p></p> Wed, 28 Aug 2013 09:59:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/alison-cuddy/2013-08/pop-cultural-trials-harriet-tubman-108548 Daily Rehearsal: Paul Brittain is not long for SNL http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2012-01-31/daily-rehearsal-paul-brittain-not-long-snl-95993 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/photo/2012-January/2012-01-31/paul brittain copy.jpg" alt="" /><p><p><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2012-January/2012-01-31/paul brittain copy.jpg" style="margin-right: 10px; margin-top: 10px; margin-bottom: 10px; float: left; width: 300px; height: 235px; " title="Brittain in character"><span style="font-size:14px;"><span style="font-family:georgia,serif;"><strong>1. And by not long, we mean not at all.</strong></span></span>&nbsp;Former Chicagoan Paul Brittain is no more at SNL, <a href="http://insidetv.ew.com/2012/01/31/saturday-night-live-paul-brittain-leaving/">reports <em>Entertainment Weekly</em></a>, after a brief stint on the show in this and last season. He will not be in this weekend's Channing Tatum-hosted fiesta. According to an unnamed source (aren't they the best kind?), Brittain left because he&nbsp;“had the opportunity to pursue other projects, and he and the show parted ways amicably." This move isn't as shocking as it seems; Hannibal Buress did similarly, <a href="http://www.wtfpod.com/podcast/episodes/episode_220_-_hannibal_buress">leaving his cushy job</a> as a writer on <em>30 Rock</em> because he believed so much in his stand-up (it helped that that was going well). And for those assuming that Brittain was fired, think again -- <em>SNL </em>has a history <a href="http://thecomicscomic.typepad.com/thecomicscomic/2009/09/addition-through-subtraction-snl-fires-michaela-watkins-and-casey-wilson.html">of rather uncermoniously dumping performers</a>, so it seems unlikely that Brittain would be fired and be able to spin it as his choice.</p><p><span style="font-size:14px;"><span style="font-family:georgia,serif;"><strong>2. <em>Legally Blonde </em>has spurred</strong></span></span> some choice headlines and surprising reviews. For instance, "<a href="http://www.suntimes.com/entertainment/stage/10307624-421/legally-blonde-pretty-in-a-pretty-darn-good-production.html">'Legally Blonde' pretty in a pretty darn good production</a>" (<em>Sun-Times</em>) and "<a href="http://www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/theater/theaterloop/ct-ent-0130-legally-blonde-review-20120130,0,5385936.column">'Blonde' will, like, totally grow on you</a>" (<em>Tribune</em>). It's at the Marriott through April 1.&nbsp;</p><p><span style="font-size:14px;"><span style="font-family:georgia,serif;"><strong>3. Kathy Griffin returned to Chicago</strong></span></span>, and spoke about it. "This city is still considered to be stomping grounds for Oprah Winfrey, so she spoke of Winfrey growing into messiah status and being bored with her new Next Chapter," <a href="http://www.windycitymediagroup.com/lgbt/Kathy-Griffins-very-gay-show/35787.html">writes Jerry Nunn</a> in the <em>Windy City Times</em>. "Griffin appeared earlier in the day on the OWN Network for The Rosie Show so maybe the big O will be watching her next time." Other than that, &nbsp;there were many jokes about Anderson Cooper (she read his texts aloud!) and the Kardashians.</p><p><span style="font-size:14px;"><span style="font-family:georgia,serif;"><strong>4. Felix Shuman</strong></span></span>, the founder of the Jeff Awards, <a href="http://legacy.suntimes.com/obituaries/chicagosuntimes/obituary.aspx?n=felix-shuman&amp;pid=155454580">died earlier this month</a>; read a <a href="http://www.suntimes.com/entertainment/stage/10334388-421/felix-shuman-co-founder-of-jefferson-awards-dead-at-87.html">lovely obituary in the <em>Sun-Times</em></a> for him.</p><p><span style="font-size:14px;"><span style="font-family:georgia,serif;"><strong>5. This week is <em>the </em>week that&nbsp;Keegan and Peele</strong></span></span> do press for their new show <em>Key &amp; Peele</em> that premieres on Comedy Central tonight. <a href="http://nymag.com/daily/entertainment/2012/01/key-and-peele-guys-on-their-comedy-central-debut-playing-the-race-card-and-poop-jokes.html">Read </a>this interview with them on Vulture, <a href="http://www.npr.org/2012/01/27/145838407/for-black-nerds-everywhere-two-comedy-heroes">listen </a>to them on Morning Edition, and <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/31/arts/harvard-sailing-team-breathes-new-life-into-sketch-comedy.html?_r=1">see </a>them mentioned in this <em>New York Times </em>article. And watch the clip below that <a href="http://www.wbez.org/blog/justin-kaufmann/2011-11-30/if-cme-group-moves-can-occupy-chicago-have-building-94461">lots of people</a> seem to like.</p><p style="text-align: center; "><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="315" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/JzprLDmdRlc" width="560"></iframe></p><p>Questions? Tips? Email <a href="mailto:kdries@wbez.org">kdries@wbez.org</a>.</p></p> Tue, 31 Jan 2012 17:18:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2012-01-31/daily-rehearsal-paul-brittain-not-long-snl-95993