The Oscar-winning actor Morgan Freeman has released a new statement – a day after apologising for making anyone feel uncomfortable or disrespected.
Concerned that his comments – in relation to allegations by eight women – were an admission that he had been guilty of sexual harassment, he has sought to clarify that he “did not assault women.” CNN had reported claims that it said described a pattern of behaviour, including from a production assistant on the recent comedy Going in Style, who alleged that Freeman repeated tried to lift her skirt and that his co-star Alan Alda had berated him for the way he spoke to her.
In his latest statement, Freeman said he was devastated that 80 years of his life were at risk of being undermined, “in the blink of an eye.” “All victims of assault and harassment deserve to be heard. And we need to listen to them,” he argued. “But it is not right to equate horrific incidents of sexual assault with misplaced compliments or humour.”
He goes on to explain that he is someone who feels a need to try to make people – men and women – feel appreciated and at ease. “As part of that, I would often try to joke with and compliment women, in what I thought was a light-hearted and humorous was. Clearly I was not always coming across as I intended.”
In CNN’s original report into allegations made against Freeman, the article says an entertainment journalist, who’s a member of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, didn’t want to go on the record about comments the actor had made about her skirt and legs during two different junkets, because of his fame and power. The HFPA member has since accused CNN of taking her comments out of context, insisting that she was never offended, she thought the comments about her dress were innocent and she noted that the CNN reporter had called her at least 10 times in the past 6 months and tried to put words in her mouth. Going on the record in her own publication, Belgium’s HLN, Kristien Gijbels Morato says she doesn’t feel like a victim. She clarifies that she doesn’t think it’s okay to lift a woman’s skirt, but continues, “Turning a well-meaning comment into something inappropriate, is not that a bridge too far?”
In Freeman’s latest statement, he says he wants to be clear: “I did not create unsafe work environments. I did not assault women. I did not offer employment or advancement in exchange for sex. Any suggestion that I did so is completely false.”
His decision to release a second statement, just a day after his first, is an indication of the sensitivity in Hollywood about the continuing allegations and the effects they can have on careers in an industry where success depends so much on reputation. His latest comments reflect an argument that recently saw fellow actor Matt Damon apologise himself for speaking of what he called a “spectrum of behaviour,” when he said there was a difference between “patting someone on the butt and rape or child molestation.”
And Freeman’s latest statement was released on the day that Harvey Weinstein’s lawyer, Benjamin Brafman, insisted that bad behaviour wasn’t on trial. “Mr Weinstein did not invent the casting couch in Hollywood,” he insisted outside the New York courthouse. “To the extent that there is bad behaviour in that industry, that is not what this is about. Bad behaviour is not on trial in this case, it’s only if you intentionally committed a criminal act, and Mr Weinstein vigorously denies that.”
With Weinstein now facing criminal charges, including rape, for the first time since October, a jury – rather than celebrities and the media – will have the chance to determine the criminality of the behaviour that has led to the Me Too and Times Up movements.