Notable Article: "Bits And Bites With Morgan Freeman At A Celebration of Excellence"

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Morgan Freeman Received Honour

In case you missed him, Mr. Morgan Freeman was in Canada earlier this week. On Tuesday night at the Toronto Centre for the Arts, the Academy Award-winner, humanitarian and all-around Hollywood legend was honoured with the Key of Knowledge Award at a gala reception hosted by Canadian Friends of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The award celebrates and recognizes Freeman's relentless dedication to combating racism and promoting knowledge and education worldwide. A Celebration of Excellence honours individuals who have changed the world and impacted lives through the advancement of knowledge.

A special Q&A with Freeman was moderated by two-time Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Paul Saltzman and hosted by CBC Q’s Jian Ghomeshi (who, in good humour, joked that growing up in Toronto’s Thornhill suburb made him an “honourary Jew”). Guests also enjoyed a tribute video that featured Shirley Douglas, actress and political activist; Marc and Craig Kielburger, Co-Founders of Free the Children; Piers Handling, Director and CEO of TIFF; and Robert Lantos, Founder of Serendipity Point Films. The video featured video clips from some of Freeman’s popular films, like Driving Ms. Daisy and The Shawshank Redemption, and highlighted Freeman’s many achievements, like Plan!t Now (formerly the Grenada Relief Fund), Artists for New South Africa and The Campaign for Female Education. 

Jian Ghomeshi

Here are some highlights of the Q&A with Morgan Freeman.

On catching the acting bug…
Freeman said that he knew acting was something he had wanted to do since the third grade, when he was eight years old and in a school production of “Little Boy Blue,” where he played Boy Blue. He felt he had “picked up the right tool for life” with that experience and that on stage was where he “felt the most powerful.”

On favourite roles…
Freeman is quick to answer when asked his favourite film role: Ellis Boyd, or “Red” in The Shawshank Redemption. Not surprisingly, this is met with applause from the audience. He tells the crowd that he actually read the entire script, rather than sides for a specific character, and told his agent that he would be happy with any role at all. Clearly, it all worked out well for him.

On his most significant role…
Freeman makes a distinction between his most significant role and most significant film. He says he was “pretty happy with pulling off Nelson Mandela.” He is referring, of course, to 2009’s Invictus. As for his most significant film, he says it’s 1989’s war drama Glory, based on the US Civil War's first all-black volunteer company. “Back in the Civil War, a lot of people didn’t understand the actual role of black people because they are never mentioned,” he says. “They don’t realize everything the African Americans did for their country.” Thanks to the film, many eyes were opened to this.

On his most enjoyable role…
Freeman “enjoyed any role with Clint Eastwood.” Freeman and fellow screen legend Clint Eastwood have appeared in three films together.

Morgan Freeman - film still

On winning awards…

When Saltzman quizzed Freeman about his opinion on awards, he offers, “acting is not a competition, you should act in support, not competition.” He disagrees with the designation of “best” that comes with things like Academy Award nominations and points in praise instead to the less known Obies – or the Off-Broadway Theater Awards. With the Obies, there isn’t one winner per se. “If they note five amazing performances, they will give out five Obie Awards,” says Freeman. 

On growing up poor…
“I wasn’t dirt poor, I was just poor. Being dirt poor implies you have acres of dirt – we didn’t even have that,” says Freeman.

On his work in education and the philanthropic realm…
Freeman spoke of his own education growing up in Mississippi in a segregated school, but in a town where he says he “got a good education.” He recalls reading Shakespeare, Dickens and all the classics. “The teachers, parents, the community helped the children grow,” he says. When he went back years later, his state was ranked 50th in education, and Freeman realized that something needed to be done to the modern education system. He says that forming things like foundations is essential but acknowledges “to make a difference, you have to start over.” It’s all “very easy,” says Freeman, and it starts with early childhood education. He points out that children at the age of two can speak, and reinforces that a young toddler’s mind is like a sponge. Therefore, instead of going to daycare, they should go to school and have their mind expanded instead of maintained. “Education is learning how to learn,” he says.

Freeman is vocal on issues of race and equality. In 1997, he approached a Mississippi school and offered to pay for their prom, provided it was racially integrated as opposed to their black and white proms. The school initially declined Freeman's offer. Freeman says that the fact that they were still segregated in the 21st century “hurts him deeply.” The town had not managed to “bridge the ignorance gap,” as Freeman declares, and calls out the parents in the town and in modern communities across North America for “continuing to stunt the growth of their children.” The following year, Freeman offered again, and the school agreed to move forward with an integrated prom. The town now has widespread integrated proms, although a smaller, all-white prom still exists, which Freeman calls “not as fun.”

Paul Saltzman and Morgan Freeman

On challenges…
According to Freeman, one of the biggest detriments to the future of education is the advent of round-the-clock television. “Only a book expands the mind and allows the imagination to go to work,” he says. “With TV, it’s all there for you already.” He says that too many children are accused of having ADD, but that many don’t in fact have it have it – they are just bored. “On a computer, children are typically doing four things at once; the classroom is simply too slow,” he says. “A child’s mind is quicker than that.”

On the height of his career work:
Freeman said that height of his career was a movie he made in 1986 that was released in 1987 called Street Smart and it was his first major role in a film. He slyly tells the audience, “I got an Academy Award nomination for playing a pimp.”

Sidney Poitier, the first black person to ever win an Oscar, was a mentor that Freeman met on Broadway and convinced him that acting was possible.

Liz Rodrigues

On his bucket list…
When Saltzman asked the Bucket List actor what was on his own bucket list, he replied that he would like to win an Academy Award for a picture he produced (but wait, didn’t he say he was against “best” designations?). When Saltzman said he was willing to wager that this will happen, a coy Freeman replied, “me too.”

The event raised $2 million for the Institute for Medical Research Israel-Canada, Canada’s premier institute in Israel and a symbol of the scientific cooperation and friendship between both countries. Funds raised will also establish the Morgan Freeman Scholarship Fund for international students participating in the Public Health and Community Medicine Program at Hebrew University. Sponsorship packages ranged from $1,800 to $100,000 and included a private donor cocktail reception and dinner with Freeman, Dr. Amir Amedi, IMRIC brain scientist, and Dr. Josephine Ojiambo, Kenya’s Ambassador to the United Nations and Hebrew University Alumni, who were also speakers at the event, addressing the future of education and advances in medicine. Tickets to the main event sold for $180 and included a dessert reception at intermission.


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