Freeman is the 27th actor to be given the honor since its inception in 1973, and only the second African American be given the laurel, after Sidney Poitier in 1992.
The AFI Life Achievement award is arguably among the most prestigious in American filmmaking, in a league with the Academy’s Irving Thalberg Memorial Award — whose honorees have overlapped with the AFI’s seven times — not to mention a competitive Oscar, which Freeman won for his supporting role in Eastwood’s “Million Dollar Baby” (2004). Freeman has been nominated by the Academy four other times, most recently for his role as South African president Nelson Mandela in Eastwood’s “Invictus” (2009).
Freeman, whose sonorous voice is so commanding and authoritative that he has played God more than once (in the “Bruce Almighty” films) and served as narrator on the popular doc “The March of the Penguins.” As an actor, he hails from the stage, having made his off-Broadway debut in 1967, in “The Nigger Lovers,” about the Civil Rights era Freedom Fighters.
His breakout role in movies was as a hoodlum in “Street Smart” (1987), which accounted for his first Oscar nom. His other notable credits include “Driving Miss Daisy” and “Glory” (1989), “Unforgiven” (1992), “The Shawshank Redemption” (1994), “Se7en” (1995), “Amistad” (1997), “Batman Begins” (2005) and its sequel, “The Dark Knight” (2008), and “The Bucket List” (2007).
He has worked with at least four of his fellow Lifetime Achievement honorees, including last year’s recipient, Mike Nichols, who directed him on Broadway in the Clifford Odets play, “The Country Girl” in 2008.
Freeman can next be seen as an ex CIA operative alongside Bruce Willis, John Malkovich and Helen Mirren in “Red,” opening Oct. 15.