Roger L. Simon

POLIWOOD AND THE RACE CARD: Will Morgan Freeman Answer Ali Akbar?

A couple of days ago, Lionel Chetwynd and I shot our latest POLIWOOD: “Herman Cain ‘Teas’ Off After Morgan Freeman Plays the Race Card.” One of our favorite actors Morgan Freeman — a man we had long thought had a reasonable view of race — jumped the proverbial shark and accused the Tea Party of racism. Herman Cain — the Republican candidate of rising popularity and a Tea Party favorite — struck back in what is becoming his familiar good-humored style, putting Morgan in his place.

All this is in the new POLIWOOD, coupled with Lionel and my speculations on why Freeman might have gone off in the direction he did. I think it’s a pretty good episode. Have a look.

But since then the stakes have risen. Ali Akbar — an African-American 26-year-old small business owner and Tea Party activist — has written an eloquent invitation to Freeman to come see the Tea Party for himself.

I’m not writing to rake you over the coals in the way that many conservatives have done in the last 48 hours. Heck, I wrote a passionate open-letter refuting many of your claims already, but this is not that. This is an honest and standing invitation. I do believe that you are wrong in what you said about the tea party, but I would rather prove it to you than castigate you for your comments.

I also understand that your reflexive comments came from experience. You grew up in a different America than the one that I was blessed to be born into. We both grew up in the south, but I never saw ‘White Only’ signs. I’ve been called a name or two in my three decades, but racism has always been the exception in my life, not the rule, as it probably was in your youth. I understand your suspicion of conservative political movements. It is rooted in pain and fear and memory, and though I never saw the horrors of segregation that you did, we share that cultural heritage.

I’ve been a fan of yours all my life. From “Driving Miss Daisy” to “Lean on Me” to “The Shawshank Redemption,” I idolized you as a boy. Growing up without a father, you were one of the strong black men in my life who gave me a model to follow. Each of the characters you played had dignity and confidence. I tried to emulate the strength you projected. While many of my friends headed down the all-too-familiar path of drugs, unwed pregnancies and crime, I’ve striven to live a life with dignity, be an example for my brothers and make my mother proud.

Despite the gracious tone of Akbar’s letter, as of late September 29, it appears that Freeman has not responded. Of course, the actor has other things to deal with, having received a welter of bad publicity lately for his personal life. Still, you would think the Oscar winner would deign to reply to someone who admires his work as much as Akbar.

I have to confess that I am a little puzzled that he hasn’t. Maybe that’s because, despite having spent a life in Hollywood myself, I’m still disappointed when great artists act like creeps, pontificating about what they don’t really know, even though I have seen it happen countless times.

Morgan Freeman was the man who not too long ago brilliantly told us if we wanted to end racism not to talk about race. And then he did. Come on, Morgan. Give this young man a chance. You’re plenty big enough. And your work shows you’re more than smart enough to know the obvious — admitting you’re wrong is good for the soul.

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