#MeToo has reared its head again, with another powerful Hollywood man accused of inappropriate behavior and sexual harassment. According to a report published Thursday by CNN, eight women have claimed that Morgan Freeman, the 80-year-old Oscar-winning actor, harassed them on film sets and at his production company.
Among his accusers is a production assistant who says Freeman subjected her to unwanted touching on the set of Going In Style and tried lifting up her skirt until his co-star Alan Arkin told him to stop, and a senior production assistant on Now You See Me who says Freeman commented on her and other assistants' bodies. CNN interviewed 16 people as part of its investigation, “eight of whom said they were victims of what some called harassment and others called inappropriate behavior by Freeman. Eight said they witnessed Freeman's alleged conduct. These 16 people together described a pattern of inappropriate behavior by Freeman on set, while promoting his movies and at his production company Revelations Entertainment."
Freeman is a celebrated actor—aside from his Oscar win for Million Dollar Baby, he has four other nominations—which is perhaps why so many of his alleged incidents did not occur privately behind closed doors. All of them were public. From allegedly harassing assistants in front of other women or attempting to touch a woman while his male co-workers were present, Freeman apparently felt powerful enough to behave inappropriately in public. It's telling that this story didn't require a Ronan Farrow-esque investigation involving burner phones and black ops teams sent to spy on victims. When CNN reporters An Phung and Chloe Melas contacted sources, many of them immediately assumed the call was about Freeman. It wasn't so much an open secret as it was blatant.
It calls to mind many of the rumors that have dogged Freeman for the latter part of his career, like the one that claimed he was in a sexual relationship with his now-deceased step-granddaughter. In 2012, TMZ reported that Freeman was in a 10-year relationship with then 27-year-old E'Dena Hines, who is not related to Morgan by blood. (She's the granddaughter of his first wife Jeanette Adair Bradshaw.)
In response to the stories, Freeman called reports "of any pending marriage or romantic relationship of me to anyone...defamatory fabrications from the tabloid media designed to sell papers. What is even more alarming is that these fabrications are now being picked up by the legitimate press as well." But the rumors resurfaced when Hines was stabbed to death in 2015 and her then boyfriend, Lamar Davenport, claimed they were true when he was accused of manslaughter.
It's not behavior that would be uncommon to a man who believes he is untouchable thanks to the power Hollywood provides him. (See: Woody Allen's marriage to his partner's adoptive step-daughter, for instance.) And his behavior at work indicates a Hollywood giant who believes he can do whatever he wants. He didn't even feel the need to hide it, like Harvey Weinstein did. Because in the culture of Hollywood, according to so many men from older generations who have spoken up during this #MeToo era, harassing assistants at work is just part of the job.
Freeman issued an apology for his actions after CNN's story broke, saying, "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 apologize to anyone who felt uncomfortable or disrespected — that was never my intent." It's pretty much a non-apology with no admission of bad behavior. It's not that different from the recent situation involving Jeffrey Tambor's firing from Transparent, where he was accused of sexually harassing his assistant and two actresses on the show. In an interview with the New York Times, Tambor then attempted to use his relationships with the cast of Arrested Development to absolve him of bad behavior. After his male co-workers defended him for an outburst directed at co-star Jessica Walter, to tears and pushback from Walter and Alia Shawkat, Jason Bateman apologized for how he contributed to a negative culture in Hollywood for ignoring Walter's experiences and downplaying them.
This seems to be the next era of #MeToo. Not the uncovering of deep secrets from Hollywood, but finally shining a light on indiscretions that have been lying in plain sight and declaring that the culture needs to change.