NPR

Antoine Dodson: Riding YouTube Out Of The 'Hood'

Antoine Dodson says he is not bothered that millions of people have watched -- and laughed at -- his appearance in a Huntsville, Ala., local news broadcast, which has become a YouTube sensation.

It all started in July, when an intruder allegedly crawled into his sister's bedroom window in the wee hours of the morning and tried to sexually assault her. Dodson and his sister successfully kicked the man out.

Later that morning, something happened that changed his life.

The local news showed up.

What followed was an afternoon news spot on local NBC affiliate WAFF-TV, in which Dodson delivered a now famous warning to his sister's neighborhood -- a public housing development.

"Obviously, we have a rapist in Lincoln Park," Dodson told the camera. "He's climbing in your windows. He's snatching your people up, trying to rape 'em. So you all need to hide your kids, hide your wife, and hide your husband, 'cause they're rapin' everybody out here."

Within hours, the story made its way onto YouTube.

"I have done interviews on the news before ... When this happened, I was like, wow, I can't believe it went crazy like this," says Dodson, adding that people now stop him on the street and call him the "YouTube guy."

To date, millions have watched the original news story.

And millions more have watched a music video spoof dubbed the "Bed Intruder Song," made by two men known as the Gregory Brothers.

A Way Out Of The Hood

Before his newfound Internet fame and subsequent earnings, Dodson family was of modest means. The 24-year-old is the oldest of six children and says helping support his family and protecting them from potential dangers of inner-city life is nothing new.

"It's pretty much a daily job for me," he explains.

In an interview with NPR's Allison Keyes, Dodson says his sister Kelly initially pressed him to ignore the media attention, which she felt would make him look like a "fool."

But Dodson, a product of the social media generation, says he immediately pegged his Internet fame as a vehicle out of poverty.

"I said, Kelly, this could be an opportunity for our family to get out of the 'hood," he recalls.

So far, the success has been sweet. He now has a blog and thousands of followers on Facebook and Twitter. And he says he's earning a profit from iTunes downloads of the "Bed Intruder Song."

He also has a merchandise section on his website, where visitors can buy T-shirts emblazoned with such phrases as "You are so dumb," which he told his sister's attacker in the newscast. He also has a telephone "fan line" in the works, where he hopes to console victims of sexual violence, and their loved ones.

Intrigue Or Mockery?

His situation has led some social critics to question whether Dodson's fame is the product of just innocent intrigue. Others criticize what they see as a caricature of a poor, openly gay black man living in the ghetto.

But Dodson, who also works as a hairstylist, takes issue with that.

"It's sad that people have so much [that's] negative to say about this matter," he says.

And Then There's The Race Issue

Has race played a role in advancing his fame?

"Not at all. Not to me and my family," he says.

In fact, Dodson credits the popular music video "Bed Intruder Song" -- made by two young white men -- with helping his family cope with their trauma.

"Us hearing that video, it gave us some type of happiness," he explains. "It gave us some type of comfort ... it was really cool to hear our voice on the track."

Dodson says his sister's attacker has yet to be caught. But his family is moving on.

"We're dealing with it day by day ... It's getting back to normal," he says.

In the meantime, the Internet star frankly admits he has every intention of capitalizing on his moment in the cyber-spotlight.

"I took it and I was running with it," he says. "And I'm still running with it."

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Transcript

ALLISON KEYES, host:

This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Allison Keyes. Michel Martin is away.

He became a worldwide sensation thanks to YouTube. For 24-year-old Antoine Dodson, it all started when he rescued his sister from an apparent sexual assault and was interviewed as part of a local TV story on WAFF in Huntsville, Alabama.

(Soundbite of newscast)

Ms. ELIZABETH GENTLE (Reporter): Telly Dodson was asleep with her little girl inside their apartment on Webster Drive when...

Ms. TELLY DODSON: I was attacked by some idiot from out here in the projects.

Ms. GENTLE: Dodson struggled with her attacker, knocking over items in her bedroom. Antoine Dodson heard his sister scream and ran to help.

Mr. ANTOINE DODSON: Well, obviously we have a rapist in Lincoln Park. He's climbing in your windows, he's snatching your people up trying to rape them, so y'all need to hide your kids, hide your wife and hide your husband because they're raping everybody out here.

KEYES: The video of the TV story was posted on YouTube and earned millions of views, thanks to Antoine's rant against the attacker. Then a band called The Gregory Brothers fashioned a song from the video called "The Bed Intruder Rap" and even though it seems to mock Mr. Dodson, the band promised to share the proceeds with him.

(Soundbite of YouTube video)

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. DODSON: He's climbing in your window, he's snatching your people up trying to rape them so y'all need to hide your kids, hide your wife, hide your kids, hide your wife, hide your kids, hide your wife. And hide your husband 'cause they're raping everybody out here. You don't have to come and confess, we're looking for you.

KEYES: Dodson is also selling T-shirts. He's asking for donations and he created myfanline.com, a site where the public can reach out to him. The Antoine Dodson phenomenon doesn't sit well with some African-Americans, though, and we'll talk with a technology and social media expert and with a cultural commentator in a couple of minutes.

But we decided we'd reach out to Antoine, too. He joins us now from WLRH in Huntsville, Alabama. Welcome, Antoine.

Mr. DODSON: Hey, thanks for having me.

KEYES: I have to start out, though, on a much more serious note. Talk to us a little bit about the assault itself and your family's reaction. Is everybody okay?

Mr. DODSON: Yeah. It's been three weeks. Everybody is okay. We're dealing with is day by day, but we're getting a lot of smiles out of the family. So things are getting back to normal.

KEYES: Has your sister or the rest of your family gotten counseling? Have you guys had to talk to anybody or are you just kind of working through it on your own?

Mr. DODSON: Actually, like, we have been in similar situations, never when somebody come into our window or whatever, but we just deal with it on our own, you know. We talk to each other, try to comfort each other and that's the best way we know how to deal with stuff like this.

KEYES: So you're family's having to deal with the aftermath of this really frightening attack and then these videos happen. I mean, there are more 10 million hits on one of them. There were four million hits on the TV news story alone. I mean, what on earth did you think about that?

Mr. DODSON: I know, I was, like, really tripping because, you know, I have done, like, interviews on the news before or whatever, but it was about a child who had got hit by a car and she ended up passing. And so I was telling them that they should put, like, whatcha call 'em, speed bumps in the street to keep people from speeding so fast, you know, in the projects or whatever. And that didn't do nothing. And then when this happened, I was, like, wow, I can't believe it went crazy like this. Like, everybody's seen the video. It was amazing.

KEYES: Were you surprised? I mean, are people stopping you on the street shaking your hand?

Mr. DODSON: Yes. Everywhere I go. Everywhere I go, somebody stopped hey, you're the YouTube guy or you're Antoine. Oh, you're my hero. And that's pretty cool when people can seem to say you're a hero, you know, like, that's really cool.

KEYES: Do you feel like a hero?

Mr. DODSON: Not really, because I always protect my sisters and I have brothers, too, so I protect them too. I'm the oldest of six. So it's pretty much a daily job for me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

KEYES: Big brother in the house. How do you feel, by the way, about the video The Gregory Brothers who produced that music video of you and your sister's words?

Mr. DODSON: Well, you know, the guy hasn't been caught yet, but us hearing that video, it had gave us some type of happiness. It gave us some type of comfort, because out of this all that video, we really liked it. Like, it was really cool, especially to hear our voice on the track. And, you know, it's on iTunes and everything. That was really cool and it did bring some happiness.

KEYES: You know, there are some folk that might think you're being exploited or that people are making fun of you, what do you think about people that think that?

Mr. DODSON: I mean, there's nothing you can do about it. People are going to talk and people are going to say stuff. I'm a joker anyway. Like, me and my family, we play jokes on each other all the time. So, basically, you know, people are going to talk. They can say what they want. It's not going to change us.

KEYES: There were also some people that called the actual TV station and basically said that you were being portrayed kind of like a character of African-Americans. And some people have said the same thing about the videos. Do you think they're wrong or right?

Mr. DODSON: I mean, I know that people probably in it for the wrong reason. They're trying to make fun of it. But, you know, I'm saying, its sad that people have so much negative to say about the situation, because this is a serious matter, but people are going to talk. We cant stop them from talking.

KEYES: So as far as youre concerned, race is not an issue in whats going on here.

Mr. DODSON: Not at all. Not to me and my family.

KEYES: All right. So, how has your life changed after these events? I was hearing that you guys are getting ready to make a move.

Mr. DODSON: Yes. So far my life changed. Like, I never in my life done a radio before, so its like now ever since this happened, we're getting all these radio shows and I had did this commercial, or whatever, for First Family Mortgage. So its like cool. A lot of opportunities is coming. We're just trying to get everything on the table and discuss everything, so I dont make no crazy choices.

KEYES: With all the fame and fortune being thrown your way, so are you going to pack up and move to the Big Apple or out to L.A., or shall we see you on the big screen some time?

Mr. DODSON: Hopefully, that'll be nice. And I would love to come to a big city, because I'm from a big city myself, so I like the fast life. I'm not going to lie.

(Soundbite of laughter)

KEYES: I'm shocked to hear that. What are you hoping to accomplish out of your fan life?

Mr. DODSON: I just hope that I can comfort people, because most of the people that I talk to and interact with its people who have been in similar situations or been a victim of rape. And I just want to comfort them and give them a couple of, you know, ways that I have dealt with the situation. So, basically I'm trying to be an inspiration to people.

KEYES: Whats your sister think about all of this?

Mr. DODSON: At first she hated it. She was like Kevin, they're trying to make a fool out of you. Just let it go. Dont even worry about it. But I was like Kelly, this could be an opportunity for our family to get out of the hood, you know what I'm saying? So, I took it and I was running with it and I'm still running with it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

KEYES: All right. Just one last question, Antoine, besides your helping to inspire rape victims, what are you hoping to get out of this for yourself? Whats your goal to make?

Mr. DODSON: I would like to write, you know, do writing. I love to write. Thats like a passion for me. And I would like to get into the, step out into the fashion world. You know, like I'm into shoes and clothes and accessories. I love stuff like that, like I want to be there.

KEYES: Huntsville, Alabama resident Antoine Dodson says he is supporting his family with the money and fame hes received from a YouTube video that railed against the bed intruder who broke into his house and tried to rape his sister. He was kind enough to join us from WLR-8 in Huntsville, Alabama.

Thanks Antoine for being on the program.

Mr. DODSON: Thank you so much for having me. Take care. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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