SAG-AFTRA Reconsiders Morgan Freeman's Lifetime Achievement Award

Morgan Freeman - 2017 AFI - Getty - H 2018
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Sexual misconduct allegations against the actor are "compelling and devastating," says the union.

In the wake of accusations Thursday that Morgan Freeman subjected eight women to unwanted touching and sexual comments, performers union SAG-AFTRA is reconsidering the lifetime achievement award bestowed on the actor at the annual SAG Awards this past January.

"These are compelling and devastating allegations which are absolutely contrary to all the steps that we are taking to [ensure] a safe work environment for the professionals in this industry," said a SAG-AFTRA spokesperson. "Any accused person has the right to due process, but it is our starting point to believe the courageous voices who come forward to report incidents of harassment."

"Given Mr. Freeman recently received one of our union's most prestigious honors recognizing his body of work," the statement concluded, "we are therefore reviewing what corrective actions may be warranted at this time."

Freeman has denied the allegations, telling The Hollywood Reporter in a statement that "anyone who knows me or has worked with me knows I am not someone who would intentionally offend or knowingly make anyone feel uneasy." But CNN, which first reported the story, cited eight women and eight additional witnesses, who stated that Freeman allegedly tried to lift a woman's skirt, massaged and touched female employees and commented on women's appearances and pregnancy.

That conduct would appear to violate SAG-AFTRA's sexual harassment code of conduct, adopted in February, which prohibits "unwelcome verbal, visual or physical conduct of a sexual nature that is severe or pervasive and which creates a hostile, offensive or intimidating work environment."

The SAG-AFTRA policy tracks applicable laws as well. Numerous men have been fired or disciplined in the entertainment industry and related sectors in the last eight months for sexual misconduct, after revelations about Harvey Weinstein sparked a new level of response to such behavior.

The allegations against Freeman come four months after the union bestowed its honor on the actor. But this is not the first time Freeman and sexism have collided.

In 2016, as THR reported, the actor-producer told an audience of 400 at an industry conference that producing partner Lori McCreary, a former tech entrepreneur, "wants to be thought of as serious, but you can't get away from the short dresses." He returned to the subject of McCreary's appearance several times, even admitting that he was "sexist" — "but not misogynistic," he added.

McCreary was sitting next to Freeman during those remarks and did not visibly react. But a source told CNN that McCreary had been "devastated" by the incident.

Freeman later brushed off his remarks, telling the Today show that they had been "in jest" and weren't newsworthy.

The comments, at the 2016 Produced By Conference, came just days after he kissed actress Marcia Gay Harden on the lips during a red carpet event then turned and grinned for the cameras.

In recent months, SAG-AFTRA has adopted guidelines on avoiding meetings in "high-risk locations," such as private hotel rooms and residences, the first of a series intended to address situations potentially unique to entertainment. Now though, the union itself is facing just such a situation and will have to decide what precedent to set.