Russell Simmons staged a simultaneous honorary dinner and housewarming party at his new Hollywood Hills home on Aug. 15, feting members of his Foundation for Ethnic Understanding. Yet while holding court in his living room, Simmons was busy dealing with an ethnic misunderstanding of his own.
Wednesday also marked the launch of Simmons’ YouTube channel, All Def Digital, produced in partnership with Dreamworks’ Awesomeness TV. An off-color satirical video posted to the channel, titled “The Harriet Tubman Sex Tape,” took little time stirring up outrage on Twitter: Before the party had ended, Simmons pulled the video and issued an apology.
But during the event itself, a more harmonious vibe prevailed. In addition to honorees Lucian Grainge (chairman of Universal Music Group) and actress-screenwriter Rashida Jones, Sidney Poitier, Marlon Wayans, Macy Gray, David Foster, L.A. Reid, Kimora Lee Simmons and All Def Music CEO Steve Rifkind were among the 200 or so guests noshing on vegan entrees in Simmons’ backyard.
The FFEU, of which Simmons is chairman, was started in 1989 by Rabbi Marc Schneier (whose oratory skills Simmons compared to “a Jewish Al Sharpton”) and the late Broadway figure Joseph Papp, with the mission of improving relations between blacks and Jews. In 2007, the org widened its focus to address Jewish-Muslim relations, twinning mosques and synagogues in a plethora of countries.
Simmons recalled buying Jones her first pair of Nikes as a child, and quipped, “She’s the epitome of the work our foundation does – a black Jew.”
Simmons was also presented with a large plaque from the City of Los Angeles recognizing his decade of work with the FFEU. Regarding his nearby mantle overflowing with plaques and framed honorary certificates, Simmons noted, “I’ve got too much shit.”