In nearly 90 films over the course of more than 40 years, Morgan Freeman has played the lead, and many of these films have become timeless masterpieces. In some of the greatest films ever made, including Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Unforgiven, The Shawshank Redemption, Se7en, Amistad, Million Dollar Baby, and The Dark Knight Trilogy, Freeman has played the lead role.
Although Morgan Freeman started appearing in films in the 1970s, it wasn’t until 1989 that he secured two parts that catapulted him to prominence. One was Glory, an Oscar-winning Civil War film that also starred Denzel Washington. The second was Driving Miss Daisy, which took home four Oscars overall and one for Best Picture. Freeman was nominated for the Lead Actor Oscar, but in 2000, when speaking at a BFI event, he called it a “big mistake.”
“I think the big mistake was Driving Miss Daisy, actually. The character caught on – this wise, old, dignified, black man that once people get iconic…some characters become sort of bracketed, identifiable – you and him. People come up and cry and stuff and everywhere you go they’re going to expect some aspect of that character out of you and if you disappoint them too many times…”
Actually, Freeman had already received an Oscar nomination for his work in Street Smart, a film starring Christopher Reeve as Superman. He received five nominations in all, including one for his performance in Clint Eastwood’s sports drama Million Dollar Baby.
Over time, opinions on films like Driving Miss Daisy have evolved. Black actors and actresses have frequently found success playing slaves and servants, as seen by Octavia Spencer in The Help, Lupita Nyong’o in 12 Years a Slave, and Hattie McDaniel in Gone with the Wind. In Driving Miss Daisy, Freeman portrays the chauffeur for an elderly, wealthy, and white woman. There is still a long way to go before black actors and actresses have access to a larger range of parts and are acknowledged for portraying more complicated characters.