Two years and three days ago, I walked down a hospital hallway, out the back door, and across the street. I took a very old elevator up to the third floor of a repurposed apartment building to the room I was renting. It was my first full day watching my newborn daughter in the NICU; she had stopped breathing two days after she was born. The building was owned by the hospital for people in just my sort of situation. I turned on the TV, in part for the companionship of sound. The building had cable; the TV had been left on TCM. Normally, awesome! In that moment, they were playing The Deer Hunter, by today’s birthday celebrant Michael Cimino. So yeah, no. But AMC was playing The Shawshank Redemption. It was midway through, and there were commercials, and it was very late. And I sat and watched every minute of the ending anyway, because I genuinely believe it to be one of the best endings every written. What I needed that night, more than anything, was Morgan Freeman saying, “I hope.”
Let’s get this right up front—I am aware there are sexual harassment allegations against him. I believe them. Some of the ones I’ve read go above and beyond “misunderstanding the situation.” I’m aware there are plenty of other people I could’ve written about. This is where I admit that I can’t entirely throw him out the way I can some other people. I do also, on the other hand, believe his apology, and I believe that he has also done a lot of good, that he is not solely a predator the way certain other people are.
For example, I saw a documentary a while ago where he paid for the prom at the town in Mississippi where he lives—provided they held the town’s first-ever integrated prom. For decades, they’d been holding unofficial parties to avoid having an integrated prom. He heard about that and was shamed by it, so he went to the kids and asked if they liked the status quo or wanted an official prom. The kids chose the prom. And at that, one of the only scenes he appears in is stolen by one of the students, who asks what their budget is. Though is is funny that his response was to reach for his pocket as though to imply that their budget was whatever he had on him.
You see, it isn’t enough that he’s a fine actor. Though goodness knows he is. He has an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, plus another nomination in the category and three for Best Actor. Frankly, I think he was better in Shawshank in ’94 than Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump, and I’m usually a big defender of Tom Hanks as an actor. But fine actor doesn’t outweigh harassment charges. What I also think of about him, however, is my Renaissance faire boss telling me about the interview he’d heard back in Freeman’s Electric Company days where he described dyslexia, leading my boss to realize what he was dealing with had a name. That’s a genuine good, arguably more so than desegregating a prom.
You’ve probably heard that he doesn’t believe there should even be a Black History Month. It’s true; he wants black history properly integrated into the history children are taught so that there is no need for it. It’s not happening just yet, so he’s going to have to wait on that. However, far too many people also take that statement to mean that he’s not supportive of things like Black Lives Matter and so forth. He is a passionate defender of equal rights, and he’s aware that we aren’t there yet. He’s wrong that the only way to end racism is not talking about it; if we don’t talk about it, we don’t talk about how to end it and we let it continue.