Political activism can sometimes, however, be a draw for many admirers, who will then seek out their idols’ films – though that is likely to be balanced out at the box office by the numbers on the other side who avoid those same actors—in the case of conservatives, figures such as Matt Damon and George Clooney.
The actors themselves don’t care about the findings of these or other polls. Recently, actor Morgan Freeman proclaimed on the Piers Morgan Tonight talk show that Tea Party opposition to President Obama “is a racist thing” that “shows the weak, dark underside of America.” Prior to this, Freeman had actually been viewed by conservatives as a sort of Hollywood voice of reason regarding race; asked once how he would solve the problem of racism, Freeman’s simple, commonsense reply – “Stop talking about it” – resonated with conservatives. But his more recent statement went viral on the Internet and his charge of racism began to impact sales of his brand new film from Alcon Entertainment, Dolphin Tale.
Prior to Freeman’s comments, interest in Dolphin Tale was notably higher among conservatives and religious moviegoers than among the Left, according to the THR poll. After his remarks, 34% of the conservatives who were aware of them, and 37% of Tea Partiers, said they were now less likely to see the film – but 42% of liberals said they were more likely.
Alcon co-founder Andrew Kosove kept a stiff upper lip and defended Freeman’s free speech: “As a person who has some libertarian viewpoints myself, I STRONGLY believe Morgan’s right to express whatever beliefs he has on any topic. We are a free country. Thank God!”
But the issue is not Freeman’s right to express his opinion, which no one is attempting to deny him. The issue is that the very nature of his profession requires Freeman to keep a low political profile lest his public persona begin to overshadow the characters he inhabits onscreen. The audience’s suspension of disbelief during a given film depends on his ability to convince viewers that he is the character he is portraying and not Morgan Freeman. That illusion becomes increasingly difficult to sustain or even to create in the first place if an actor lets his offscreen political outspokenness color the audience’s perception of him.
It becomes an unpleasant effort for, say, a member of the Tea Party in the audience to immerse himself in a story when it stars Morgan Freeman, who called him a racist. Or Matt Damon, who called him stupid. Or Sean Penn, who literally embraces America’s enemies abroad. Or Jane Fonda, who served as a propaganda tool for the enemy during the Vietnam War. Freeman and others are free to express their opinions just like every other American citizen – but they must accept the consequences at the box office.
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