“Ask a Slave” by Azie Dungey Sets the Historical Record Straight in a New Web Series

Any­one whose job involves inter­ac­tion with the gen­er­al pub­lic will be sub­ject­ed to a cer­tain num­ber of bone­head­ed ques­tions on any giv­en day. Those num­bers sky­rock­et when one must remain in both cos­tume and char­ac­ter, charged with bring­ing his­to­ry to life.

Azie Dungey, the cre­ator and star of the new web series, Ask a Slave, claims to have “played every black woman of note that ever lived” when she was employed as an his­toric inter­preter in the Wash­ing­ton DC area. These includ­ed Car­o­line Bran­ham, Martha Wash­ing­ton’s enslaved lady’s maid, a gig that com­pelled her to keep a record of ques­tions posed by vis­i­tors to Mount Ver­non.

Now, as the tea-sip­ping, fic­tion­al Lizzie Mae, Dungey is able to answer those ques­tions with greater free­dom. A mid­dle-aged, seem­ing­ly edu­cat­ed white man won­ders if a news­pa­per ad is what led to Lizzie Mae’s posi­tion in the home of “such a dis­tin­guished Found­ing Father” as George Wash­ing­ton.

“Did I read the adver­tise­ment in the news­pa­per?” Lizzie Mae echoes pleas­ant­ly.  “Why, yes. It said Want­ed: One house­maid. No pay. Prefer­ably mulat­to, saucy with breed­ing hips. Must work 18 hour a days, sev­en days a week, no hol­i­days. But you get to wear a pret­ty dress, and if you’re lucky you just might car­ry some famous white man’s bas­tard child. So, you bet­ter believe I read that and I ran right over and said, “Sign me up!””

Her default tone is one of pro­fes­sion­al­ly patient indul­gence, though occa­sion­al­ly, the mask slips, as when anoth­er vis­i­tor asserts that “slav­ery isn’t real­ly that bad.”

Stick­ing to the his­toric inter­preter’s schtick of not rec­og­niz­ing non-peri­od inven­tions like cam­eras pays div­i­dends when the sub­ject turns to intern­ships, the under­ground rail­road, and what George Wash­ing­ton thinks of Abra­ham Lin­coln free­ing all his slaves.

The best mate­r­i­al, as they say, writes itself.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Amer­i­can Founders and Their World

Ayun Hal­l­i­day doc­u­ments an unex­pect­ed detour to Mount Ver­non in The Big Rum­pus. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday

by | Permalink | Comments (1) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.