In a rare new interview with U.K. newspaper the Sunday Times, Oscar winner Morgan Freeman explained why he objects to the term “African-American,” and why it’s an “insult” to limit the teaching of Black history to just one month.
In the interview, Freeman, 85, was asked about his past comments, in a 2005 interview with CBS’s Mike Wallace, about how not talking about race might help end racism.
“Two things I can say publicly that I do not like: Black History Month is an insult. You’re going to relegate my history to a month?” Freeman responded.
“Also ‘African-American’ is an insult,” he added. “I don’t subscribe to that title. Black people have had different titles all the way back to the n-word and I do not know how these things get such a grip, but everyone uses ‘African-American. ‘What does it really mean?”
He continued, “Most Black people in this part of the world are mongrels. And you say Africa as if it’s a country when it’s a continent, like Europe,” comparing it to people of European heritage being referred to by a specific country, such as Irish-Americans or Italian-Americans.
When interviewer Jonathan Dean mentioned fellow actor Denzel Washington, and his statement “I’m very proud to be Black, but Black is not all I am,” Washington echoed those sentiments.
“Yes, exactly. I’m in total agreement,” Freeman shared. “You can’t define me that way.” He also noted that he’s “so very envious of Denzel’s career, because he’s doing what I wanted to do.”
Freeman, who currently stars with Florence Pugh in A Good Person, went on to discuss how things have changed since he first started acting in the 1960s, rising up from small stage roles to the beloved children’s program The Electric Company. He believes the industry has become increasingly inclusive, noting that for a long time roles for Black actors were typically comedic “When I was growing up there was no ‘me’ in the movies,” he shared.
“The change is that all people are involved now,” Freeman added. “Everyone. LGBTQ, Asians, Black, white, interracial marriages, interracial relationships. All represented. You see them all on screen now and that is a huge jump.”
The actor also mused on where he might have ended up if he hadn’t found success in Hollywood.
“People ask, ‘What would you be doing if you didn’t make it?’ I don’t know,” he said. “Driving a limo? But I would be in community theater. I would be acting. But along with guts it also takes luck. You need courage and serious luck. I credit my career with both.”