EXCLUSIVE: Hip-hop mogul, film and television producer and entrepreneur Russell Simmons has signed with WME for representation in all areas. He was at CAA. The representation shift follows the Def Jam founder’s decision earlier this year to move full time to Los Angeles to focus on building his film and TV businesses, run by Jake Stein and recently appointed Chris Conti, respectively. Under a two-year first-look deal at HBO, which Simmons inked in May, he is executive producing a high-profile new drama project from 12 Years A Slave director Steve McQueen.
Controversy over a comedy short helped Russell Simmons launch his new YouTube channel All Def Digital yesterday. But a firestorm of complaints over Harriet Tubman Sex Tape, in which the abolitionist has sex with her master in order to blackmail him into creating the Underground Railroad, led Simmons to pull the video today and issue an apology. “In the whole history of Def Comedy Jam, I’ve never taken down a controversial comedian,” said Simmons in a statement. “When my buddies from the NAACP called and asked me to take down the Harriet Tubman video from the All Def Digital YouTube channel and apologize, I agreed.”
“I’m a very liberal person with thick skin,” he continues. “My first impression of the Harriet Tubman piece was that it was about what one of 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. I have taken down the video. Lastly, I would never condone violence against women in any form, and for all of those I offended, I am sincerely sorry.”
EXCLUSIVE: Russell Simmons is quickly building up his newly launched Def Pictures and RSTV. NBC drama executive-turned-producer Chris Conti has been tapped as president of the two companies. Simmons, who bought a home in Los Angeles at the beginning of the year, has been focusing his money, time and energy on his new production shingles and recently signed a first-look deal with HBO. He met with a number of executives before settling on Conti as president. “Chris is such a good drama guy, and he is such a good ‘melody’ guy with great instincts for story,” Simmons said. Conti was recommended to Simmons by Brett Ratner, for whom Conti most recently worked as president of his production company Rat TV. Simmons said he already has “a broad plate” of projects, including one based on an idea brought in by Conti, a Norman Lear-esque comedy about a progressive guy and a conservative girl whose relationship is put to the test as the politically divided country heads to an election.