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Def Jam's Simmons apologizes for Harriet Tubman sex parody

Russell Simmons arrives as a guest to the premiere of the new film "Lee Daniels' The Butler" in Los Angeles, California August 12, 2013 file
Russell Simmons arrives as a guest to the premiere of the new film "Lee Daniels' The Butler" in Los Angeles, California August 12, 2013 file

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Hip hop magnate and Def Jam co-founder Russell Simmons apologized on Thursday for a controversial sex tape parody of African-American slave-turned-abolitionist Harriet Tubman that appeared on a Def Jam YouTube channel.

In an apology posted on Simmons' Global Grind website, the businessman said he was asked to take down the video by the NAACP civil rights organization.

"I'm a very liberal person with thick skin. My first impression of the Harriet Tubman piece was that it was about what one of the actors said in the video, that 162 years later there's still tremendous injustice. And with Harriet Tubman outwitting the slave master? I thought it was politically correct. Silly me. I can now understand why so many people are upset," Simmons said in a statement.

The three-minute video posted on the All Def Digital YouTube page on Wednesday featured a parody of Tubman performing sex acts with a white slave owner while another slave filmed them from a closet, to leverage freedom for slaves.

Simmons posted the link to the video on his Twitter page on Wednesday, with the caption "Funniest thing I've ever seen Harriet Tubman sex diaries." There was a backlash within hours on social media as people criticized the parody for distorting Tubman's legacy and making a mockery of slave rape.

Tubman was born into slavery in 1820 and later escaped.

In his apology on Thursday, Simmons said, "I would never condone violence against women in any form, and for all of those I offended, I am sincerely sorry."

Although race is a dominant and charged theme in hip hop music, treading crudely on African-American abolitionists and civil rights figures is still seen as taboo.

Earlier this year, rapper Lil Wayne's sexually graphic reference to slain civil right figure Emmett Till prompted Epic Records to delete it from a song and PepsiCo Inc to sever ties with the rapper.

Def Jam Recordings is part of The Island Def Jam Music Group under Universal Music Group, a subsidiary of French media conglomerate Vivendi.

(Reporting by Piya Sinha-Roy; Editing by Patricia Reaney and Grant McCool)

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