Name: Morgan Freeman
Job: actor, producer and narrator
Net worth: about $200 million (according to Wealthy Gorilla)
“I am going to stop calling you a white man and I’m going to ask you to stop calling me a black man.”
– Morgan Freeman
Morgan Freeman is considered one of the greatest actors in the world. In addition to having one of the world’s most instantly recognizable voices, he has become a cinematic icon with roles in some of the greatest movies of all time. He has won numerous awards including a five-time Academy Award nominee and five-time Golden Globe Award nominee, he won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor (musical or comedy) for the 1989 film Driving Miss Daisy, and the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for the 2004 film Million Dollar Baby.
However, there is something more than just ‘a great actor’ in Freeman. He is not just a great actor, but a ‘Great Man’, who is trustworthy, down to earth and compassionate, who relates to our problem, and is willing to do the right thing for our society. He is the one who talks about and acts for our problems, which makes him a man we all can relate to and respect as a human being, unlike other celebrities who are great at their performances but become cocky or snobby as they get caught up in their fame. He has a lot of qualities that appeal to people, from inner personality to specific demeanors, and they altogether contribute to the creation of his unmatchably strong personal brand, which clearly set him apart from others.
Unique expertise or values that differentiate him from other actors
- Legendary African-American Actor
Morgan Freeman is easily one of the most important and skilled actors working in Hollywood, well-recognized with his iconic smooth voice.
However, more importantly, he is one of the first African-Americans to play roles not written specifically for an African-American. As an African-American grown up playing cowboy and watching Westerns, he didn’t see many people who looked like him riding high in the saddle on the big screen. There were a few who were given respectable such as Stepin Fetchit, Mantan Moreland and Willie Best, but they mostly played subservient, stereotypical characters. While Freeman in his early career, even when he established himself as a movie star in the mid-90s, also had to play typical roles for African-Americans like a pimp (1987’s “Street Smart”), a chauffeur (1989’s “Driving Miss Daisy”) and a convict (1994’s “The Shawshank Redemption”), he made himself to the God (2003, “Bruce Almighty”) and the U.S. president (1998, “Deep Impact”) which gave strong impression on the public and contributed his ‘Great Man’ figure.
- Outspoken Advocate of Social Equality
Morgan Freeman is also an outspoken advocate of racial and social equality. Some might be thrown by the news of his criticism of Black History Month, but he makes a decent point: “You’re going to relegate my history to a month? “I don’t want a black history month. Black history is American history”.
Revelations Entertainment, a production company co-founded by Freeman and Lori McCreary also pertains to his pursuit of social equality. Most well-known by documentary series for National Geographic “The Story of God” (2016) featuring Freeman visiting exotic locales from Mayan temples in Guatemala to the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, exploring the differences and, more often, the similarities in the way people worship, and “The Story of Us” (2017), featuring Freeman traveling the world talking to everyone from Ethiopian tribespeople to former President of the U.S. Clinton in an effort to understand the common forces that bind humanity together, Revelations Entertainment has completed a lot of projects with a wide variety of topics, tackling South African politics and women in power, in addition to fundamental issues such as love, belief, rebellion and peace.
Additionally, as for civil rights, Freeman has done commercials for same-sex equality and has even helped raise money for the American Foundation for Equal Rights. He also helped hurricane relief efforts, supported the Mississippi Animal Rescue League, and been a patron of the Campaign for Female Education.
As you may notice, there is consistency between the actor Freeman and the human Freeman. He stands up for the right thing, especially social equality. It contributes to building public trust on him, making him a trustworthy figure whose personal brand is persuasive to the public.
Personal branding traits
Here are some of his personal branding traits, onscreen and offscreen respectively, which contributed to his strong and trustworthy ‘Great Man’ personal brand.
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- He is a talented actor
Let’s get the most obvious one first. His incredible acting is well proven by numerous awards he has won so far. He is an Academy Award and Golden Globe Award-winning American actor best known for his powerfully moving performances in Driving Miss Daisy, Shawshank Redemption and Million Dollar Baby.
- He played trusted and compassionate roles
He showed a great performance when he played trusted roles which most of the time depict Father or Role Model figure, such as God in Bruce Almighty and Evan Almighty, and the President of the United States in Deep Impact. These roles solidified his strong but compassionate onscreen persona, which at the same time also crystalized people’s perception on him as a truly sympathetic, wise and trustworthy character, which can indeed be reality in the public’s eyes.
- He has a deep and credible voice
Freeman has his ‘deep voice’ which is so iconic that people can recognize him only by his voice. His voice not only attracts women but also appeals to men as it signals he is the leader of the pack among men and thus should be listened to. Freeman’s expressive, varying intonation also, “boosts credibility and enhances the impression of intelligence,” according to research.
It is these subconscious signals of his voice that makes him the perfect casting choice to play amazing roles like God and the president, the narrating voice in films like March of the Penguins, as well as many advertisements.
- He is down-to-earth and stands up for the weak
Off screen, Freeman has shown the same compassionate persona in his outspoken advocacy for charity causes.
Many stars these days get intoxicated with fame and get criticized by their cocky or immoral behaviors. Whereas, Freeman is still down to earth and stands on the side of the weak despite all the fame and wealth he has earned.
One of his passions is disaster relief — he hosted an online disaster relief auction for the American Red Cross and after Hurricane Ivan and Hurricane Emily ravaged Grenada, he and friends created the Grenada Relief Fund. This nonprofit organizations raises funds to educate islanders to be prepared for future disasters and build more hurricane resistant homes, as well as providing employment training for those now unemployed because of the devastation. Morgan Freeman created a cookbook with celebrity recipes (Morgan Freeman and Friends: Caribbean Cooking for a Cause) to raise funds for the Grenada Relief Fund.
Also, when it comes to racial equality issue, which he himself has had to go through as well as an African-American, he has argued against having a Black History Month because he believes that the only way to end racism is to stop talking about it. In an interview with Mike Wallace on 60 Minutes he declared, “I am going to stop calling you a white man and I’m going to ask you to stop calling me a black man”. His personal experience of prejudices may have worked as the impetus for him to become a strong activist for social equality.
- He makes things work
Saying you’re going to do it is one thing. Making it work is another, especially when you’re a busy movie star traipsing the globe.
Freeman is the one who makes it work. He had himself engaged in a lot of charity activities or public campaigns. But most notably, he is deeply engaged in operation and production works at Revelations Entertainment, which was founded in the hope of exploring challenging issues and revealing hidden truths. Freeman revealed in one interview that “There was no historical evidence that anyone black was doing anything other than nothing,” “but nobody’s going to tell your story”, “if you want your story told, you have to tell it yourself.”
Even The Story of God and The Story of Us, the companies’ most ambitious as well as the most renowned projects, are very much his personal journey, exploring remote corners of the world seeking truth and answers by himself.
Revelations Entertainment has successfully grown its businesses, and is going to further strengthen its digital contents, including potential short-form programming for such social platforms as Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat.
- He has a strong will power
Different from one might expect, his childhood was not easy and privileged. His father was an alcoholic who died of cirrhosis. He was largely raised by his paternal grandmother. Also, he could not even form good friendships in his early childhood because of constant moving of his family. His strong will and independent personality must be attributable to his tough childhood to a great extent, but he had another challenge to overcome: alcoholism.
Freeman was also once an alcoholic like his father. Apparently, he hated working on The Electric Company, an educational show for children, and the alcohol provided him with a temporary release. However, he finally managed to kick the habit. “Let me be the first to tell you, drinking alcohol is the worst thing to do in cold weather. Hot soup is the best because the process of digesting food helps to warm you up,” Freeman said.Anybody who has struggled with alcoholism can tell you that beating it requires tremendous amount of strong will power.
- He does not settle down and keeps learning new things
Freeman was a dancer in his early childhood. He performed at the 1964 World’s Fair and then as a member of the Opera Ring musical theater group in San Francisco.
He is also a very skilled golfer,being the first American to ever score a par on the Legend Golf & Safari Resort’s Extreme 19th hole, a shot from atop a mountain with a vertical height of 430m and a 400m horizontal distance to the back of the green.
Moreover, at age 65, Freeman got his private pilot’s license. He also owns three different aircrafts.
These all prove that Freeman is an all-round talent and showman, which makes him more attractive. Also, it seems obvious that aging cannot slow him down from learning new tricks.
- He is patriotic
In 1955 at age 18, Freeman signed up for the U.S. Air Force with ambitions of becoming a fighter plane pilot. Although he ended up serving his five years as a mechanic, Freeman still did his part to keep America safe.
This seemingly perfect man has also been embroiled in sensational scandals.
- Inappropriate relationship with his-step granddaughter
Freeman’s step-granddaughter, E’Dena Hines, a biological daughter of Freeman’s adopted daughter, Deeda Adair, was murdered in 2015 in her age 33 by her drug-induced boyfriend according to prosecutors.
As the defense lawyers insist that Freeman’s step-granddaughter told her boyfriend-turned-killer that Freeman had been secretly sleeping with her before she was murdered, old rumors about Freeman’s alleged affair with Hines was given a spotlight again.Such rumors have swirled since 2009 by the report by The National Enquirer and later even developed to the gossip that the two were even planning on tying the knot. Freeman and Hines have both said in the past that the claims about them sleeping together were completely false.
- Sexual Harassment Allegations
Freeman has been accused of sexual harassment by eight women last year. The relevant CNN report includes one woman who says the actor repeatedly tried to lift up her skirt, and asked if she was wearing underwear. According to it, several women also said that he made frequent comments about their bodies.
It comes as no surprise that social media went into an overdrive by people expressing their shock, disbelief and even disgust, when the CNN report came out, considering that Freeman was one of the most representative trustworthy celebrities, and even God to many of his fans as he played God in Bruce Almighty.
Below are some of the examples of reactions made by Twitter users:
- “Good morning. Morgan Freeman was accused of sexual harassment. We need a new God”
- “I thought Morgan Freeman was trending because he died, now it’s potentially even worse, all my black role models getting struck down. Pac, if you really alive now would be a good time to come back.”
- “I saw Morgan Freeman was trending so of course I clicked on it thinking he died. I was close! Just the death of his career.”
Shortly after the CNN report, Freeman released an apology for his actions and said he never intended to offend anyone. And in his second statement, he said that “All victims of assault and harassment deserve to be heard. And we need to listen to them. But it is not right to equate horrific incidents of sexual assault with misplaced compliments or humor,” He also said that “I also want 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.”
However, it didn’t contribute that much to making people calm down, as his statement was an apology that is not an apology at the same time, which somewhat blames victims for their over-serious reactions to Freeman’s friendly compliments or well-intentioned humor.
As the subject sexual harassment allegations are directly against the images that he has built so far, if he fails to prove his innocence, he may not be able to recover the public trust on him again.
How he uses media to get attention
Freeman has very active presence on Facebook, followed by more than 10M people.
He usually posts about his vision, his works at Revelation Entertainment or his personal life on his Facebook. Although he is still under sexual harassment allegations, his posts are receiving numerous comments and shares from his supporters.
While his media exposure or engagement in advertising activities is currently limited due to ongoing investigations into the allegations, his Facebook is now functioning as a main passage for keeping his social voice and communicating with his fans.
How he will be remembered
It is no doubt that he will be remembered as one of the greatest actors in the film industry, along with his unmatched deep voice, which adds a layer of credibility to his acting.
In addition, the Great Man image he has constantly shown to the public across onscreen and offscreen – a down-to-earth and compassionate man who can relate to OUR problems and can actually stand up to solve them, a passionate man who is willing to explore unrevealed truths of the society and wants to know what makes the whole humanity bind together, and a credible and trustworthy man who actually makes what he said happen and work – will give him a longer-lasting and stronger personal brand than other celebrities who are just great in their career. His strong personal brand might have perhaps already played a significant role in preventing him from plummeting in popularity after sexual harassment accusations, having him remained with his followers who trust and support his innocence.
Nevertheless, if he turns out to be guilty in accusations, or happens to show inappropriate reactions which go against people’s trust, his personal brand will receive unrecoverable damage which will then make him shown as a hypocrite to the public. Once you lose trust, your personal brand loses its power.
What we can learn
- Trust is crucial in personal branding. Once you lose trust, your personal brand loses its power.
- Consistency across your career and personal life is the key for building public trust on you.
- Talking is easy. You need to actually make things work.
- If you are an actor, carefully choose your film roles, as they play deeper role than you expected in forming your public image.
- Voice is also one of the factors that can influence your personal brand.
- Social media can function as an effective passage for keeping his social voice, even when media activities are restricted for some reason.
Brizzo is a dynamic and energetic investor, marketing strategist, musician and online reputation specialist. He is the Co-Founder of AICY Create, https://www.aicy-create.com/, a leading marketing agency based in China, with expertise in Personal Branding and China Digital Marketing.