New York - Morgan Freeman, one of the most celebrated actors in the film industry, has been accused of sexual harassment by several women, according to a report by CNN on Thursday. The accusations ranged from unwanted touching to sexually suggestive comments — on movie sets, in office environments and during meetings with the news media.
One production assistant told CNN that she had endured several months of harassment while working on the set of “Going in Style,” a film released last year starring Freeman, Alan Arkin and Michael Caine. She said that on one occasion Freeman “kept trying to lift up my skirt and asking if I was wearing underwear,” until Arkin told Freeman to stop. There were also suggestive comments and unwanted touching, such as putting his hand on her back.
A woman described as a senior member of the production staff of “Now You See Me,” a 2013 movie, said Freeman would routinely comment on her physical appearance and that of her assistant.
Three reporters said Freeman made inappropriate comments to them during publicity events to promote coming films. One reporter, Chloe Melas of CNN, said that during an interview last year for “Going in Style,” when she was six months pregnant, Freeman looked her up and down and told her, “You are ripe.” A camera caught Freeman saying “Boy, do I wish I was there,” directed toward Melas. CNN aired the video with the remark on Thursday.
“Right when I walked into the room, he began to make sexually suggestive comments to me,” Melas, one of the authors of the CNN report, said on air Thursday. “As an entertainment reporter for over a decade, it was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.”
Melas then began looking for other women who had had similar experiences. An article on CNN’s website said the network had spoken with 16 people, eight of whom accused Freeman of inappropriate behavior.
In a statement after the article was published, Freeman, 80, said: “Anyone who knows me or has worked with me knows I am not someone who would intentionally offend or knowingly make anyone feel uneasy. I apologise to anyone who felt uncomfortable or disrespected — that was never my intent.”
Freeman is the latest high profile entertainment figure to be accused of mistreating women since the #MeToo movement began. Harvey Weinstein, the movie mogul whose fall from grace set in motion a cascade of revelations against other men, including Kevin Spacey, Louis C.K., and dozens more, is set to be arrested in Manhattan on Friday after an investigation into allegations that he sexually assaulted several women.
Freeman has, at least until now, been one of the most revered actors of the modern film era. He won an Oscar for best supporting actor in 2005 for his role in “Million Dollar Baby” and has been nominated for four other Academy Awards. He is often cast as a grandfatherly figure of wisdom and decency and has been referred to as having a “voice of God,” one heard in numerous voice-over roles and commercials.
Just this week, the Vancouver transit system said it would use Freeman’s voice in some announcements. On Thursday, the transit system said it would pause the project in light of the accusations.
Some of the inappropriate behaviour also took place at Revelations Entertainment, the production company Freeman founded along with producer Lori McCreary two decades ago, and where staff members described the work environment as toxic for women. According to CNN, one manager said Freeman would “come over to my desk to say hi, and he’d just stand there and stare at me. He would stare at my breasts.”
McCreary would make snide remarks to women who could not stay late because they had to go home to their families, CNN reported, citing two former senior-level employees of the company. McCreary, who is co-president of the Producers Guild of America, did not respond to a request for comment.
Most of the women spoke to CNN on the condition of anonymity and said they had not complained about Freeman’s behaviour because they feared for their jobs. Melas reported her own experience to CNN’s human resources department. It, in turn, brought it to the attention of Warner Bros., which produced and distributed the film and, like CNN, is a division of Time Warner Inc.
According to CNN, Warner Bros. told Melas that it could not corroborate her account because other than the comment caught on camera, it could not find Warner employees who had witnessed the other inappropriate remarks she said Freeman had made. Warner Bros. declined to comment Thursday.
Another journalist, Tyra Martin, an entertainment producer at Chicago’s WGN-TV who interviewed Freeman many times over a decade, told CNN that he would often comment on her dress, but that she was “in on the joke.” There was, however, one incident that she felt crossed the line.
“When I stood up, I pulled my skirt part of my dress down, and he did say, ‘Oh, don’t pull it down now.'” Martin told CNN.
It is unclear what the accusations will mean for his future film work.
Freeman has one major film on the horizon: “Disney’s Nutcracker and the Four Realms,” a lavish fantasy co-starring Keira Knightley, Helen Mirren and Mackenzie Foy and set for release Nov. 2. Freeman plays Drosselmeyer, the slightly scary clock- and toy-maker who, at least in the ballet version of “The Nutcracker,” magically makes everything happen. Disney did not respond to a request for comment.
Freeman has two other movies in advanced stages of production, “Angel Has Fallen” and “The Poison Rose.” Both are independently financed and do not yet appear to have full distribution plans. Millennium Films, the company behind “Angel Has Fallen,” and March On Productions, which is producing “The Poison Rose,” did not respond to queries.
“Angel Has Fallen” is a sequel to the 2013 thriller “Olympus Has Fallen,” which cost roughly $70 million to make. Freeman reprises his role as the politician Allan Trumbull. “The Poison Rose” stars John Travolta as a former football player who becomes a troubled private investigator; Freeman plays a Texas crime boss.
The New York Times