Morgan Freeman: I don’t want a black history month. Black history is American history… [to Mike Wallace] I’m going to stop calling you a white man, and I’m going ask you to stop calling me a black man. I know you as Mike Wallace and you know me as Morgan Freeman.
I completely disagree with Morgan Freeman on Black History Month here, but I didn’t always. Living in Tucson, a city with an African-American population of about 3% is much different from living in a city like L.A. or S.F. or New York.The other thing, and I don’t know if Freeman talks about this at all in the remainder of the interview, is that race and actors is a huge topic. I remember Morgan Freeman from his N.Y. days. I have lot more respect for N.Y. actors than I do for Hollywood actors. That’s just the way I am. It’s one of the craziest inverses of the art world that people who perform live onstage 8 times a week, make so much less money than Hollywood yahoos. Those who have succeeded at both, like Freeman, get a big tip of the hat from me.
(Ahem. Is there an elephant in the room – Freeman’s relationship with his ex-wife’s granddaughter E’Dena, whom he helped raise? Well, let’s leave that alone.)
Freeman might say that he’d feel the same way about race, that we need to ignore topics about race for racism to recede, even if he were a mechanic at Joe’s Garage, and maybe he would. If what he means by “ignoring race” is that we don’t notice it at all, well, yes, that’s been called being “colorblind” and is probably a fantasy like Snow White.
Speaking of Snow White, here’s the deal with actors, and the world of the performing arts: Directors and Casting Directors rule. Yeah, so if Director X isn’t imagining Snow White being played by the brilliant dark-skinned actress, then she doesn’t have a job and doesn’t have chance of getting the job. That’s how it is most of the time, casting is by type. (Just like Mariah wouldn’t be cast to play “Precious.”)
Denzel Washington, Whoopi Goldberg, and Morgan Freeman come to mind as examples of Black actors who were cast in roles that were originally described/defined as being white. (For the hell of it, I’m going note that all three are New York actors.)
We can look at Hollywood and see many times when white actors have been cast as Native American, Chinese, Latino. Yes, it adds to their resumes, yes there’s the joy of creating and performing, but let’s not forget that for professionals, those jobs are paying the rent. Especially when actors are just starting out, and they all start somewhere.
The other part of that is what I call “neutrality” being the Holy Grail. In my eyes, that’s what a performer like Freeman aspires to. It’s not about “being white,” but about an actor having the skills to play any part ever written. The reason that falls apart in the eyes of many directors is that they don’t believe their audience will be able to read all the different relationships as they, the directors, want them to. Will interpretation go in too many directions?
Morgan Freeman, like Paul Robeson before him and like James Earl Jones, has a recognizable, commanding voice that works neutrally. When Freeman narrates an international hit about penguins that has nothing in particular to do with the Black experience, and everything to do with universal human experience, it’s a conquest for him. I don’t think Ja Rule could’ve gotten that gig even though his voice is deep too, dig?
I get where Freeman is coming from in this clip. I understand his objection to Black History Month. I disagree. I think many lesson plans are written for this month by teachers who would skip the content if there weren’t a Black History Month. It’s not about the crazy menus at the NBC commissary. Freeman is a very successful artist and probably doesn’t care a whit what youngsters are taught in districts with extremely small African-American population. I do care. That’s it. And this year, of course, I’m enjoying taking this time to reflect on Black History during this month.
Well, one more thing – about the white-skinned ethnicities, Latino and Jewish come to mind, let’s not forget:
- Jonathan Stuart Leibowitz=John Stewart
We all know what’s going on there, right? There’s nothing really like that for Black performers, unless you want to count what Michael Jackson was doing. Hell, I don’t know what he was doing, but the point is, it doesn’t work. And the world of radio and music has its own world of borders and boundaries that are just as tough as a close-minded casting director.