Ask A Slave

Russell Simmons’ horribly misguided “Harriet Tubman Sex Tape” proved recasting slavery in a humorous light can be tricky at best and downright offensive at worse. But somehow, Azie Mira Dungey pulls it off.

In “Ask A Slave,” Dungey hilariously answers real questions she received while working as an actress at George Washington’s historic Mount Vernon mansion in Virginia.

Dungey, who calls herself a “time-traveling black girl” because she’s played “every black woman of note that ever lived,” says the idea for “Ask A Slave” came about after President Obama’s election.

I ask you to remember the racial tension that was all around. We had people saying that the President would be planting watermelons on the White House lawn. Emails were forwarded proclaiming that this was the beginning of a race war and the end of the country as we know it. People bought guns. (A lot of guns.) A scientist reported the evolutionary explanation as to why black women were the least attractive of all the races. The Oprah Show ended. It was mass chaos.

And in the midst of all this, I was playing a slave. Everyday, I was literally playing a slave. I mean, I was getting paid well for it, don’t get me wrong, and we all need a day job. But all the same, I was having all these experiences, and emotions. Talking to 100s of people a day about what it was like to be black in 18th Century America. And then returning to the 21st Century and reflecting on what had and had not changed.

In “Ask A Slave,” Dungey plays Lizzie Mae, a fictional character she created based on her interactions with tourists visiting Mount Vernon and the real women who worked for President Washington and his wife Martha.

On the “Ask A Slave” website, Dungey gives visitors (and viewers) a brief history of what life may have been like for slaves at Mount Vernon.

Lizzie Mae would have been one of 316 slaves that worked and lived on George Washington’s five farms. About 98 of those enslaved people lived on the Mansion House Farm, the grounds of the mansion. Lizzie would have been one of about 12 who worked in the mansion. The rest of the people on her farm were working artisans: carpenters, spinners, weavers, laundresses, knitters, horselers, gardeners, and blacksmiths. A great number were also children, who would have worked in their own homes, caring for younger siblings and doing chores. Some may have also done menial tasks around the farm, such as fetching water from the wells, carding (cleaning) wool, or moving waste from the privies (outhouses).

Lizzie Mae would have worked very long hours, starting at about 4 in the morning and leaving the mansion at about 9 at night. As a house servant, she had very little time to herself and family, and almost no privacy.

…Most people assume that working in the house was a position of privilege. While it may have seemed that way to the slave-owners, it is clear that the people themselves didn’t share that point of view. The majority of Mount Vernon runaways were house servants.

Though “Ask A Slave” is a comedy, Dungey hopes her web series will not only educate viewers about slavery, but also honor those who “struggled and survived through their uncanny intelligence, their strength, their love, and…laughter.”

Watch “Ask A Slave” and let us know what you think.

Episode 1:

Episode 2:

Tags: , , ,
Like Us On Facebook Follow Us On Twitter
  • I didn’t think the intention was to make light of slavery. I think it’s pointing out just how ignorant and misinformed people are about slavery (probably because the history books leave the real details of slavery out). When I watched the video, I laughed but was also really upset that people are so misinformed.

    • MommieDearest

      That’s how I interpreted it as well. She wasn’t making fun of slavers and slavery, but actually highlighting how silly some people are and using humor and satire to school them.

    • IJusWannaSay…

      ‘Cuz lawd knows they can’t handle it when you give it to ’em straight, no chaser…i liked her angle and hope this web series does well.

    • The RealKay

      This is true! Just ask some of these political idiots that claim that Black people were soooo much better during slavery. Yeah, cuz there’s nothing like working for no pay under threat of brutal physical punishment or estrangement from family that says “better.”

  • omfg

    “a brush of tar.” …i love that…

  • Nadell

    Initially I thought it was conscious humor, however, wisdom set in and I realize how offensive this actually is.
    Regardless of how asinine questions about slavery can be and how ridiculously low the mental capacity of some individuals are, SLAVERY in any aspect is neither witty nor up for pardon.
    ASK A SLAVE….??? That title alone makes me cringe. Slavery is dehumanizing…a life that was forced upon our ancestors. There was nothing glamorous about it. There was nothing to be grateful for nor proud about.
    ASK A HOLOCAUST VICTIM/SURVIVOR..Wouldn’t everyone be completely outraged???
    Our ancestors have to be shaking their heads in shame for the way we mock their plight..

    • The RealKay

      It’s satire. It comes off as humor but really it’s social commentary about how little people know about the horrors of slavery. Most people (especially revisionist historians) think that slaves were happy and had lives fill with song and dance. Most other serious historians and researcher know this is NOT true. However most people when confronted with hard evidence tend to turn away from it. However, satire can be a vehicle of getting those same people to question their beliefs.