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Hollywood Watch         

Morgan Freeman: America’s “Spiritual Presence-in-Chief” 

Edmund Connelly 

May 1, 2009 

I’ve just finished researching and writing a long essay on a two decade-old phenomenon in which the film image of African American males has improved dramatically. It now rivals that of white males, who outnumber blacks by about seven to one. (We might also mention that it was white males who ruled and largely built the nation we know as America.) Like others, I do not believe this process has “just happened.” Rather, I believe it is the result of a determined effort of elites to displace whites—especially males—from positions of status and power, if not to eliminate them altogether. 

J.B. Cash, who is associated with the website Caste Football, describes this process about as well as anyone:  

There are various names for the ideology of the elite. Some call it “political correctness.” Others call it “Cultural Marxism.” But the labels don’t matter as long as one understands what is going on: the ruling elites are waging a cultural and racial war against Western values, Western civilization, and particularly Western man, i.e., the white man. In the name of the feel-good mantras of diversity and multiculturalism, all the values of traditional white civilization have been declared bad and everything opposed to them declared good. Every idea, attitude, and institution that protects the white race and promotes its continued existence is being destroyed, as a precondition for the physical destruction of the race itself. No arena of life is spared this agenda’s icy grip. Every movie, television show, news story, book, and sermon must advance it, under the watchful eye of an army of censors and snitches demanding unyielding fidelity to the agenda. No argument or evidence is allowed to challenge it. 

(For those so interested, William Lind’s Who Stole Our Culture adds further useful discussion.)

As my main area of academic research is film and its influence on society, I am naturally interested in the changing portrayals of various ethnic, racial, and gender groups in American society. Toward this end, my recent research involved the image of the noble black man, or, as Richard Brookhiser dubs him, the Numinous Negro. 

Brookhiser tells us that the word ‘numinous’ is a Roman term for "the presiding divinity . . . of a place." It also means "spiritually elevated." According to Brookhiser, the Numinous Negro presides over America, “and contact with him elevates us spiritually.” The most obvious example comes in the person of Morgan Freeman in films such as The Shawshank Redemption, Deep Impact (U.S. president) and Bruce Almighty, where he plays, well, God. Though Brookhiser adds that “the Numinous Negro need not be a man — Toni Morrison and Oprah are Numinous Negroes (Ms. Morrison is a seer; Oprah is a sage)” — the vast majority of recent films featuring the Numinous Negro star male characters. I’ve already written about Denzel Washington, another excellent example of the genus. 

Morgan Freeman Expressing his Numinosity as God in Bruce Almighty

Previously, I had done more work on the films of Washington than those of Morgan Freeman, so my latest essay saw me delving into the filmography of Mr. Freeman. Though I’ve emphasized how positive the Hollywood version of the Numinous Negro has become, even I was surprised by how extensive Freeman’s oeuvre is in that respect.

My general understanding was that Freeman’s public emergence as a Numinous Negro came in 1989 as the aw-shucks chauffeur in Driving Miss Daisy and was cemented by his role as the redeemed prisoner in The Shawshank Redemption (1994). Of course, film critics point out the irony that the tall Tennessean’s first big role in film was as the cruel pimp Fast Black in Street Smart (1987), for which he was nominated Best Supporting Actor. This exception aside, the point remains that Freeman’s characters have marched in lockstep with the multicultural ideology that increasingly elevates blacks in the American imagination. 

I could easily go on to describe how by 1998, when Freeman played the role of kindly U.S. President in Deep Impact, his film persona was fixed as the intelligent moral center of each of his films. Steve Sailer, the film critic for The American Conservative and VDARE’s special Sunday columnist, aptly dubs Freeman America’s “Spiritual Presence-in-Chief.” Just go to the Wikipedia page on Freeman’s filmography to confirm this.  

For example, a year after The Shawshank Redemption, he played brilliant police mentor to Brad Pitt’s rash character in Seven, followed by his role as savant Dr. Alex Cross, a forensic psychologist, in Kiss the Girls. Having written tomes on the psychology of (presumably white) serial killers, he is unusually expert in following ambiguous clues. Freeman reprised his role as Dr. Cross in Along Came a Spider (2001), where once again Cross is an agent of deliverance to a young white woman. 

In The Sum of All Fears, Freeman played Director of Central Intelligence to Ben Affleck’s young white Jack Ryan character (is anyone noticing a pattern here?) A year later, in 2003, Freeman appeared as God in Bruce Almighty (the 2007 sequel was Evan Almighty). 

The following year saw Freeman team up with Clint Eastwood in the drama Million Dollar Baby, where Freeman won Best Supporting Actor for his performance as former prize fighter Eddie "Scrap-Iron" Dupris, a washed up, blind-in-one-eye boxer who manages to get by with a job as janitor at a local gym.

While Freeman’s main persona in Hollywood films is that of the wise and kindly mentor, generally to the young white star, in Batman Begins (2005) he is also elevated to the pinnacle of technological sophistication. Playing Lucius Fox, he is a scientist in biochemistry and mechanical engineering, supplying Bruce Wayne with the fabulous equipment he needs as a flying crime fighter. (He reprises the role in the 2008 sequel The Dark Knight.)

(Steve Sailer unravels the opening Hollywood conceit in Batman Begins, referring to the opening murder of Bruce’s parents: “As an old Chicagoan, I can assure you that one aspect of Batman Begins is standard-issue Hollywood hokum: the murderous mugger is blond. Blond bad guys are a lot more common in movies and television than in real life.”) 

I could go on, but this is a mere website column, not a book. After all, by 1995 Freeman was starring in about two films a year, increasing to an average of three by 2005. In any case, my attention during my research turned in the other direction, to what Freeman had been doing in the decades prior to his Hollywood stardom. My discovery there was a surprise. 

Freeman did not simply emerge fully formed as a great actor in the late 1980s. Rather, he honed his skills as a main character on the children’s educational program, The Electric Company, which was a product of The Children’s Television Workshop and ran on the Public Broadcasting Service. Clearly, this was a concerted effort at social engineering, following as it did the earlier success of Sesame Street. Funds came from the usual cast of liberal suspects, such as the Ford Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, The Corporation For Public Broadcasting, and the Office of Education, U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. Both Sesame Street and The Electric Company were the very models for what was to become multiculturalism in America, introducing the tolerant cast of mixed races and genders that later became the official norm throughout the country, as NASA did with space shuttle astronauts, etc. etc. 

Freeman’s roles included Easy Reader, a “smooth hipster who loved to read at every opportunity and every printed thing he saw.” (Ironically, in the 1989 Academy Award-winning film Driving Miss Daisy, Freeman’s character was originally illiterate.) He also did Mel Mounds, a hip disc jockey who introduced songs, where his signature phrase was "Sounds righteous, delightious, and out-of-sighteous! Heavy, heavy!" Vincent the Vegetable Vampire was another of his roles.

Morgan Freeman: Before the Numinosity — The Vegetable Vampire

So for most of the Seventies, millions of American children were made to feel comfortable watching a dark African American with an afro sing ditties and spell words. Then, over a decade later, when he had aged and his hair grayed somewhat, he becomes America’s “Presence-in-Chief.” Interesting. 

Morgan Freeman: Before the Numinosity — The 'Fro Years

I may be reading too much into this, but the whole process reminds me of what author Jeff Gates discusses in his new book Guilt by Association: How Deception and Self-Deceit Took America to War. (I reviewed it here.) On matters far more serious than spelling, Gates outlines a strategy where a target audience is prepared for accepting future beliefs. This “preparing the minds” allows a displacement of facts with beliefs. The result is that the audience can be manipulated by inducing self-deceit, and pop culture plays a large role. 

While I don’t believe that back in 1971 someone consciously set out to prepare Morgan Freeman to be, say, Dr. Alex Cross the brilliant psychologist, it would still be true that his appearances on The Electric Company succeeded in “laying the mental threads” of the image of a helpful and non-threatening black man. 

What I am talking about, then, is sophisticated propaganda. One of my favorite accounts of the effects of propaganda come from Jacques Ellul’s ground-breaking 1965 work, Propaganda: The Formation of Men's Attitudes, where he states that  

once the individual has been filled with and reshaped by propaganda, the smallest dose now suffices. It is enough to ‘refresh,’ to give a ‘booster shot,’ to repaint, and the individual behaves in striking fashion — like certain drunks who become intoxicated on one glass of wine. The individual no longer offers any resistance to propaganda; moreover, he has ceased to believe in it consciously. He no longer attaches importance to what it says, to its proclaimed objectives, but he acts according to the proper stimuli. The individual is arrested and crystallized with regard to his thinking.  

An obvious example, used by Gates and many others, is the propagation of the media image of a threatening Arab. Using our Electric Company illustration, we see that even that “educational” show featured a stereotype of the evil Arab. As media scholar Jack Shaheen tells us in his study The TV Arab, there was a character known as the evil Spell Binder, “a short, grubby-looking villain who resembles those turbanned Arabs in the escapist Arabian Nights’ films of the fifties and sixties.” (He also notes that most other children’s shows had negative images of Arabs, too—Popeye, Bugs Bunny, Scooby-Doo, Speed Racer, Tennessee Tuxedo, Jonny Quest . . .) 

Shaheen is wise to point to the selective framing of Arabs and the repetition of that framing. “You cannot deny the reality—there are people who really want to kill Americans. But those are basically the only images we see." Naturally, such repetition has a goal, one captured in an old Arabic saying: “Al tikrar biallem il hmar. By repetition even the donkey learns.”   

The donkey in this case is presumably the American people, who, as we all know, are pliable to sustained manipulation.   

The real world consequences of Hollywood’s image of Morgan Freeman is obvious: We have our first black president. Given the long history of depicting black presidents as “calm, earnest, utterly decent and way, way cooler than white presidents,” who is surprised at this outcome? 

Freeman continues apace in his work. Rumor has it that he has long wanted to do a film based on Nelson Mandela. Now that dream has come true, as Freeman again works with Clint Eastwood, who will direct the Mandela bio-pic titled The Human Factor. Tough guy Clintwood used to stand for the average white man, but lately he’s gone multicultural on us, especially with his latest, Gran Torino, in which he mentors a Hmong youth. Thus, I suspect that watching Freeman as hero Nelson Mandela will not exactly make my day. 

Edmund Connelly is a freelance writer, academic, and expert on the cinema arts. He has previously written for The Occidental Quarterly.

 

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