Morgan Freeman is an accomplished actor who throughout his career has played a civil war sergeant, Nelson Mandela, and the president of the United States of America, plus been nominated for 5 Academy Awards (winning once) and won a Lifetime Achievement Golden Globe.
But it seems as though at the twilight of his career, Morgan Freeman’s acting roles continue to fall into one category. Why is he always stuck playing the ‘Magical Negro’?
The roles that Freeman has played in the past two years include a doctor who creates a prosthetic tail for a dolphin, and an ailing CIA mentor — in both roles he reprises the Magical Negro type, coming to save the day for his imperiled white counterparts. One could argue his gadget guru in the upcoming The Dark Knight Rises fits under that same umbrella.
Freeman’s latest endeavor is The Magic of Belle Isle, a film in which he plays a disgruntled old writer revived by an unexpected friendship with a white single mom. Not quite a Magical Negro, but certainly a source of inspiration for white hope, and definitely not the most innovative plot. A black man saved by the unexpected kindness of a white woman? I didn’t think The Blind Side needed a sequel.
However, there was a time when Freeman went for more challenging and dynamic roles. His work in Street Smart, Nurse Betty and Lean on Me was lively and passionate. Those characters weren’t always there to save the day and they weren’t always likeable. But they were interesting, and a far cry from the wise black man stereotype he seems to be embracing these days.
To be fair, to be a black male actor in Hollywood is hard enough. Most of the roles they’re offered are rife with tired tropes — if you’re not the Magical Negro, chances are you’re the thug, the wise-cracking token black friend, or the mandigo. Compound this with being an older black male actor (Freeman just recently turned 75), and you’re swimming upstream.
But for someone with as much talent as Freeman, you can’t help but feel the guy isn’t phoning it in a tad bit. He’s gathered enough Hollywood cred to command a few reputable scripts, and yet he continues to choose roles that fall short of his potential. Sure the wise old man thing can be endearing, but after a certain point it panders to the lowest common denominator of non-threatening black male stereotypes. Perhaps it’s not in Freeman’s heart to step outside of this beloved typecasting, but it certainly makes me long for “Crazy Joe” Clark.
Follow Kia Miakka Natisse on Twitter at @miakka_natisse