Acting the Dream: Hollywood, Morgan Freeman, and Octavia Spencer

Published on January 16, 2012

"Octavia Spencer" "Morgan Freeman" "Martin Luther King"

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr inspired not only a nation, but a world.  Still, as equality can be lawful, it isn’t always tangible.  Last night, with nearly 17 million viewers nationwide, The Golden Globes presented another year of great films and animation.  The highlight of the night, however, was first in Morgan Freeman, only to be seconded by Octavia Spencer.  What a dream.

But what is the dream of our nation, really?  Thirty years before my birth and now more than twenty years following, Morgan Freeman has dominated the movie industry.  With over 50 years of experience, growth, and prominence amongst the Hollywood crowd, the most intriguing of his accomplishments is the variety and prestige of his roles.

Every year, it seems that Black actors and Hollywood tend to box around the same ring.  What Morgan Freeman, Sidney Poitier, Danny Glover, Denzel Washington, Will Smith and the like have accomplished isn’t as tangible as it is for the ‘rest’ of Hollywood.  But somehow, it seems to have been ten times easier than today.  Of course, after your foot is in the game as a ‘sure thing’ the movie roles aren’t hard to come by, but what about the next generation?

Complaints about Tyler Perry are far and wide, but he undoubtedly delivers a talented, colorful cast, often overlooked on the Hollywood scene.  Octavia Spencer, who won Best Supporting Actress for Civil Rights Era ode ‘The Help,’ quoted MLK in her acceptance speech: “All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance.”

The quote was meaningful beyond MLK, also representing her feelings about the harsh criticism the movie came under from many communities for its alleged favoritism of “white savior” over “poor blacks.”  While some praised it for a touching story, others found it a disturbing reminder of“widespread stereotype presented in both film and novel.”  I will not attest to neither favoring nor opposing the movie, but it is to no contest that roles such as these is what remains top recruit for Black actors today.  That is not to negate the win or her performance.  But is it that today we’re settled with playing the role of ‘the dream’ being achieved rather than carving the diligent task of striving for it?

Watching this montage of Freeman’s most riveting roles, and listening to his acceptance speech to follow, the one question that comes to mind is ‘what is the dream of our nation, really?’  In the end, the dream of a nation is not built in unison.  It’s built individually.  With each waking step, every move, and every play made by its citizens, does the dream then begin to build.  For the movie industry, and literally any-and-everything else, there’s no better day than today to begin to ask ourselves these questions, and strive to make answers or at the least, solutions.  Black actors calling out Hollywood for favoritism, racism, stereotype, etc., will not change Hollywood.  But the individuality of like-minded writers, actors, directors, so on and so forth could make a change if collective efforts were bounded–without permission and with no boundaries.

“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”

-Martin Luther King, Jr.

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