Morgan Freeman on Oscars Diversity: It Starts With Industry, Not the Academy

Morgan Freeman on Oscars Diversity Controversy,
Roger Askew/REX Shutterstock

Morgan Freeman won the best supporting actor Academy Award in 2005 for “Million Dollar Baby.” As part of this week’s Variety cover story on the Oscars, he spoke about the win, the #OscarsSoWhite controversy and why Hollywood’s diversity problem isn’t getting worse.

What do you remember from your Oscars night?
What stands out for me is that they called my name. I kind of expected it, because I’d been nominated; that was my fourth nomination. I thought sooner or later they are going to break down. Because since this was supporting and not lead, I figured I could probably manage it.

Did it change your career?
No. It put an adjective in front of my name.

Did you watch the Oscars as a child?
I was a child at the movies. Whatever was going on in the movie world, I wanted to be watching it. I venerated the men and women who graced the screen.

What did it mean when Sidney Poitier became the first black actor to win the Oscar for “Lilies of the Field” in 1964?
It meant that I could too. His whole life meant that I could. His whole career informed me.

What do you make of this year’s #OscarsSoWhite controversy?
I can understand why the noise came up. But to me, it’s just noise. If we’re going to talk about diversity in the film industry, we don’t need to start with the Academy Awards. We need to start somewhere way back — with the producers, the directors, the casting agents, the writers. It should be an open field. I think in today’s world, if you look out there, that’s what would reflect today’s America.

Is Hollywood getting better or worse when it comes to diversity?
Of course it’s getting better. Don’t look at the few movies we make nowadays. Look at television, where you’re resting in your living room every night. It’s full of diversity. That reflects Hollywood.

But there’s a feeling that movies should also reflect that.
It depends on who is writing them and what story they want to tell.

Earlier in your career, did you feel like Hollywood was writing enough movies for you? 
I just feel like I’ve been blessed in my career. What directly comes to mind is “The Shawshank Redemption,” one of the greatest movies ever made. Holy cow. I have no idea why I was cast. I got the script. I read it, and I told my agent I’d play any part. When he said, “They want you to play Red,” I was floored. I was dumbfounded. My jaw fell.

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  1. I am glad M Freeman expressed this point of view.

  2. Carol says:

    Huge fan of Morgan Freeman gravitas, on screen and off.

  3. Bill B. says:

    One of the more common sense view points I’ve read yet about this. I’ve long said that the Oscars are not the problem, and have been criticized for saying it, and this attack on them unfair and pointless. They don’t make or cast movies. They are the wrong target for this anger.

  4. TheBigBangof20thCenturyPopCulture says:

    Why does the diversity debate leave out different shades of pale when white ethnic minorities who number less than blacks do not equal their ratio of demographic numbers or enjoy positive quality choice of roles?

  5. Tyler Brink Ethic says:

    Wouldn’t the Oscars start with the actor and the quality of their acting? The industry is going to make movies that will make them money. And people will pay for movies they want to see. So maybe actors should focus on perfecting their talent. Just look at professional sports in America. The best player gets to play regardless of the color of their skin. Do you think sports fans are less racist than movie audiences?

    • RK says:

      Sports are quantitative, the arts are subjective:

      African-Americans alone purchase 43% of movie tickets, films with relatively diverse casts had the highest median global box office receipts and the highest median return on investment, yet 93% of the Academy and 92% of Hollywood executives are Caucasian [2015 Hollywood Diversity Report,]. If your sports analogy held true, if Hollywood were a “meritocracy”, than minorities should hold influential positions within the industry in far greater numbers…

    • KB says:

      Agreed. It’s along the similar vein of the wage gap in Hollywood. A lot of people in the media jumped Jeremy Renner’s rear, because he said it wasn’t his job to make sure that women were paid fairly, it was just his duty to do his job, and to be believable. Nothing else. A lot of women, myself included, actually defended him. He was right when he said it wasn’t his job. Just like it’s not the Academy’s job to pick winners solely on color. It should be about the depth of the performance, as well as the believability. If you’re nominated, fine. If you win, it should solely be based on a convincing performance and nothing else.

      • KB

        I so totally agree with you re:Renner. As a woman, I sided with him because it isn’t his job to ensure equal wages for actresses.

        Women can help themselves by working with other women in every capacity available to them. Competition among women is often more cutthroat than amongest actors. Buth that would be too easy!

        Re; this diversity, if this is such a primary concern among others who feel slighted, then why not be transparent in how they voted?

        There have been many actors who have never been nommed and of those nommed , there can only be one winner. Why is that so hard to accept?

  6. ac says:

    well put. the whole #oscarsowhite controversy is just wrong. will smith and his wife is just mad that he was in a shitty movie and didn’t get a nomination and if he did, people would go see it and they would make money. why don’t they cast other black actors in their production company.

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