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Now veteran Hollywood actor Morgan Freeman is accused of indecent behaviour, harassment

As many as 16 women have spoken about harassment and inappropriate conduct by the Academy Award-winning actor.

Morgan Freeman in Now You See Me (2013)

Our Correspondent

After once-powerful Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, popular comedian Bill Cosby and well-known actor Kevin Spacey, it's the turn of veteran Hollywood star Morgan Freeman to find his reputation turning into mud.

Freeman, who has been working in Hollywood for over five decades and turns 81 next month, finds himself in the midst of a storm after as many as 16 women accused him of inappropriate conduct and harassment. Eight of those women have accused him of sexual harassment.

A long and detailed investigation by the news channel CNN has led to the sensational allegations. The identities of the purported victims have been kept under wraps, but some of the complainants are said to be present and former members of production staff of films he has worked in. 

The CNN report quoted one production assistant who worked with Freeman during the shooting of Going In Style (2017), which also starred Alan Arkin and Michael Caine. Recalling one nasty incident, the victim said Freeman "kept trying to lift up my skirt and asking if I was wearing underwear". The harassment only stopped, she said, when Arkin stepped in and told Freeman to cut it out, leaving the old man embarrassed and at a loss for words.

Another member of the production staff, who worked with Freeman on Now You See Me (2012), said he harassed her and her assistant on numerous occasions by making rude comments about their bodies. "We knew that if he was coming by ... not to wear any top that would show our breasts, not to wear anything that would show our bottoms, meaning not wearing clothes that [were] fitted," she said.

The alleged indecent behaviour was apparently not limited to movie sets. A few former employees at Freeman’s company Revelations Entertainment also claimed that he indulged in inappropriate behaviour.

Remarkably, it is not just the women working around Freeman, but Chloe Melas, one of the two CNN reporters who broke the story, who has also accused him of inappropriate behaviour when she had interviewed him at a press junket for Going In Style.

According to Melas, who was six months pregnant at the time, Freeman, in a room full of people, including co-stars Arkin and Caine, shook Melas's hand and did not let go while repeatedly looking her up and down and saying more than once a variation of "wish I was there."

She said he also told her, "You are ripe." The cameras were on and recording during one of Freeman's remarks to Melas — "Boy, do I wish I was there" — but not for the rest.

There has been no comment from the actor’s spokesperson so far, but CNN reported that the actor released a statement saying, "Anyone who knows me or has worked with me knows I am not someone who would intentionally offend or knowingly make anyone feel uneasy. I apologize to anyone who felt uncomfortable or disrespected — that was never my intent."

Freeman has been nominated for the Academy awards and the Golden Globes on five different occasions for the same films. He won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for Million Dollar Baby (2004) and the Golden Globe for Best Actor for Driving Miss Daisy (1989). His notable films include Unforgiven (1992), The Shawshank Redemption (1994) and Invictus (2009).

World over, the entertainment industry has long been deemed a place where women and even men are routinely exploited. The #MeToo campaign to speak up about such harassment after the first allegations against Weinstein surfaced eventually led to him being fired in disgrace from the company he founded.

Spacey, too, was exposed by the campaign. Cosby, a convicted sex offender, is battling more accusations of harassment and even rape.

In India, the issue has been spoken of a fair bit, but most remain wary of coming out in the open and exposing their tormentors, given that the film industry and politics in India are still run like feudal fiefs and the judicial system is notoriously slow-paced.

Thus, actresses like Richa Chadha, Vidya Balan and Tisca Chopra have spoken briefly about indecent proposals, but none has disclosed any names.

Only veteran actress Daisy Irani revealed recently that she was abused as a child artiste back in the late 1950s, but not one member of the film fraternity outside of her own family has had the gumption to speak up for her.

The only other case where an actress has spoken up involved unheralded Telugu actress Sri Reddy, who stripped in public to protest against the sexual harassment and exploitation in the Telugu film industry. She also did not hesitate to take names, accusing star Rana Daggubati's brother Abhiram and producer Kona Venkat of rape.

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