If the Twittersphere is any reflection of public opinion, then I can safely say I was not alone when I was shocked to hear that sexual harassment allegations had been made about Morgan Freeman. It was as if the last bastion of human decency had been attacked.
I immediately wanted to know more. I wanted details. This couldn’t be right, could it? Morgan Freeman is like a grandfather figure. His soothing, omnipotent voice has guided us through countless movies. From Driving Miss Daisy to the chilling Seven, from Oscar winning Million Dollar Baby to my personal favourite, The Shawshank Redemption, Morgan Freeman was always the voice of reason. We could trust him.
This was the reason so many were finding the accusations hard to believe. Freeman is a good actor. The lines between acting and reality often get blurred when someone has built a career out of playing a certain type of character – in Freeman’s case, a character that is almost always kind, dependable, trustworthy, protective, sincere, and wise.
However, the majority of us don’t know Freeman at all. We really have no idea how he behaves behind closed doors. What we do know is that eight women have come forward to report behaviour that clearly made them feel uncomfortable. The story was broken by CNN reporter Chloe Melas, who during the course of interviewing Freeman was subjected to lewd remarks about her body (she was pregnant at the time).
As soon as the interview took place and before she went on maternity leave, Melas reported the behaviour to management and the Human Resources department at CNN. Upon her return to work, after speaking to another colleague, she began to make phone calls and realised the incident with Freeman was not an isolated one. Eight women, most wishing to remain anonymous, detailed incidents of inappropriate comments that made them feel uncomfortable.
One woman--a production assistant on the 2015 comedy Going In Style, starring Freeman, Michael Cane and Alan Arkin--recalls an incident with Freeman on set. Freeman "kept trying to lift up my skirt and asking if I was wearing underwear,” she told CNN. "Alan [Arkin] made a comment telling him to stop. Morgan got freaked out and didn't know what to say."
Sixteen people in total spoke to CNN about having witnessed inappropriate behaviour from Freeman, with a further three accounts coming from entertainment reporters (including Melas) about inappropriate comments that had been made to them in the course of interviews.
Freeman is excusing the behaviour as humour and saying he didn’t intend to make anyone feel uncomfortable.
More details will no doubt come out over the following days and weeks, but Morgan Freeman’s statements about the matter surprised me. He said that “it is not right to equate horrific incidents of sexual assault with misplaced compliments or humor” and apologised to anyone who may have been offended by his behaviour. “Clearly I was not always coming across the way I intended," he said. There is a glaring problem here and again I felt like crying, “No, not Morgan Freeman!” Freeman is excusing the behaviour as humour and saying he didn’t intend to make anyone feel uncomfortable.
Intent does matter, but it is extremely frustrating to hear that a man so many of us held in high esteem does not understand that the comments he made would make someone feel uncomfortable. It’s privileged male power on display. The women making the accusations, are being dismissed as troublemakers or ‘snowflakes’ that can’t take a joke and can’t stand up for themselves. But maybe instead of people asking, “Why didn’t she speak up at the time?” they should be asking, “Why did he think it was okay to behave in that manner?”
Whether Morgan Freeman has done anything illegal remains to be seen, but regardless, his case highlights how entrenched misogynistic language and behaviour towards women in society (and in workplaces) is. It’s so entrenched that even some women think that it is normal. It’s not acceptable to treat women as commodities, to leer at them and speak to them as though they are merely in existence for men’s pleasure. This is the culture we need to change if the #metoo movement is going to make a difference. We need to continue to call out the behaviour displayed by older generations to teach younger generations that this sort of behaviour is not normal and not acceptable.