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.