Morgan Freeman left the SAG Awards audience on its feet on Sunday after delivering a short speech that touched on Hollywood’s gender inequality debate while accepting the guild’s life achievement award.
“I wasn’t going to do this; I’m going to tell you what’s wrong with this statue,” he said. “It works from the back, but from the front, it’s gender specific. Maybe I started something.”
After getting a standing ovation, Freeman took the stage and said, “This is beyond honor, this is a place in history.”
He thanked SAG-AFTRA, his children, his business partner, his life partner, and Rita Moreno, who presented Freeman the honor — returning the favor after he gave her the award in 2014. She said the two have known each other for 50 years, having first worked together on the 1971 educational children’s series “The Electric Company.”
“Morgan is way more than just an actor, narrator, producer, humanitarian. This man is a national treasure,” she said.
“Morgan likes to say that if you become a star, people are going to go see you. And if you remain an actor, they’re going to go and see the story you’re in,” she added.
“I know you’re just saying this ’cause it’s true,” Morgan teased when he took the stage.
“You have no idea how long I had to put up with that,” he later joked when Moreno told him to raise his baseball cap, which shielded his eyes.
“These moments in one’s life usually would call for an entire litany of thank yous. I can’t do that because I don’t know all of your names, so I won’t try,” he said.
The 80-year-old film legend, who has a Screen Actors Guild Award, two Golden Globes, and an Oscar under his belt, finally broke into the film industry at the age of 50.
He told Variety that he once thought, “your mouth has shut your career down,” after losing role after role for being outspoken about how African-Americans and other minorities were depicted in the scripts he was reading.
“I want to change people’s attitudes. About black people, about us as Americans. About America itself,” he told Variety.
Freeman is the 54th recipient of the SAG life achievement prize, awarded to an actor annually for career achievement and humanitarian accomplishment.
Last year’s life achievement award honoree, Lily Tomlin, also made headlines with her speech, as well as comments she made backstage that likened the then-recently-inaugurated president’s political tactics to those of Nazis.
Other honorees have included Carol Burnett, Debbie Reynolds, Dick Van Dyke, and Mary Tyler Moore.