‘Ask a Slave’: How Did You Get to Be a House Maid?

Comedian Azie Mira Dungey re-enacts her experience playing a slave character at the Mount Vernon plantation.

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(The Root) -- Born out of her experience playing the slave maid of George Washington at his Mount Vernon estate, actress Azie Mira Dungey’s acclaimed Web series, Ask a Slave, is a tragicomic homage to the questions she encountered there. Dungey plays the slave Lizzie Mae in the series, which begins its second season on Nov. 10. It’s Lizzie who attempts to answer some of the historically tone-deaf questions that vexed Dungey when she was professionally reliving an uncomfortable part of 18th-century history for the pleasure of tourists and historians alike.

It all started after Dungey finished her studies at New York University and returned to suburban Maryland to pursue work in the D.C. area’s local theater. While she portrayed the likes of Harriet Tubman onstage, her “day job” was as a slave re-enactor at Washington’s Virginia estate.

“When I was at Mount Vernon, I would have these funny interactions—some actually not funny—but these interesting interactions, and sometimes I would post about them on Facebook. And people kept saying ‘You should write them down,’ so I started writing them down,” Dungey says.

“I was doing professional theater at night, and a lot of my theater friends were like, ‘This is definitely material for a one-woman show.’” she continues. “I started writing it like that, actually. But it’s really not about the slave character or me, even. It’s more about the question, and that’s what makes the point.”

Since launching the series, Dungey has received an abundance of press and accolades for the satirical role she created that puts her own “more contemporary voice” into the voice of a slave. “I put it up on Sept. 2, after Labor Day, and by the end of the week I was on NPR talking about it. I’m just shocked how much people seem to really get it. That was really my first concern,” Dungey says.

Of course, “getting it” also means some still not quite getting it. Although most see the videos as entertainment or as a teaching tool, Dungey has gotten responses from people asking her to help them “get rid of” their “white privilege.”

And while Dungey is proud of her Ask a Slave project, she’s still “trying to get out of the 18th century” and examine some more “contemporary” forms of entertainment. She is currently working on a sketch-comedy series with actress Amani Starnes of United Colors of Amani. Starnes had a guest role on season 1 of Ask a Slave; she played Emma the runaway.

Watch an episode of Ask a Slave here:

Danielle C. Belton is a freelance journalist and TV writer, founder of the blog blacksnob.com and editor-at-large of Clutch magazine.

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