Celebrity Social Action: How Morgan Freeman And Others Promote Change
Recently, our country has come face-to-face with some of society's ugliest problems, all of which are long overdue for some major facelifts.
We have been confronting gender inequalities, racial inequalities and an absurd amount of criminal associations with marijuana.
So, why are we suddenly doing something about these injustices? Because people are finally talking about them.
We live in a society where we are greatly influenced by the celebrity culture. For some reason, we are undeniably obsessed with what other people are doing with their lives.
When it comes to pop culture, we really are bandwagoners. So, when Morgan Freeman gave "across the board" support for the legalization of marijuana in a recent interview with The Daily Beast, it was hard for America not to pay attention.
But, celebrities have been advocating for marijuana for years — by singing and rapping about it, openly posting about the herb on social media and promoting its use — so what makes Morgan Freeman's support all that different?
Well, Morgan Freeman isn't the person who pops into most people's heads when they think of a marijuana user, but that is exactly why people are so captivated.
Morgan Freeman is a recognizable, friendly face. He is someone who has starred in a number of family-friendly films.
And, he is someone who says he uses marijuana on a regular basis to ease his pain from the extensive injuries he suffered in a car accident.
He is the antithesis of rappers and singers who adamantly advocate for marijuana use (and when the rappers do it, it's just not in a language the general population can quite understand).
Morgan Freeman saying smoking marijuana is okay adds something to the legalization conflict that was previously missing: the ability to relate.
For as long as there has been social disharmony, there have been people who have voiced their opinions in favor of the underdogs.
There are a number of incredible advocates, including mainstream actors and performers, who have dedicated themselves to standing up for social change.
Artists like Miley Cyrus and Lady Gaga, for instance, have openly supported LGBTQ movements.
But the thing is, it makes sense for Miley and Gaga to advocate for this because it is reflects their images.
No one pays it all that much attention. Then, cue Frank Ocean, the five-time Grammy nominee and one time Grammy winner for Best Urban Contemporary Album in 2013, who admitted to the public his first love was a man.
It was shocking for people to see someone so prominent in the hip-hop movement identify with something that is the polar opposite of the culture's norms.
It took people a while to adjust, but it is no longer considered so taboo (at least in that circle). It means we are moving in the right direction.
Another incredibly influential advocate for social change just happens to be one of the most well-known hip-hop artists of all time, Tupac Shakur.
His lyrics exposed the injustices in poverty-stricken neighborhoods and addressed people and communities in pain.
He helped to inspire them. Almost 20 years after Tupac's death, artist Kendrick Lamar has, in a way, become Tupac's successor.
He and Tupac had a similar upbringing in some of the West Coast's hardest neighborhoods, and they understand the struggle from the inside.
This year, Kendrick put out an album, almost prophetic in nature. The album, To Pimp a Butterfly, features a song called "Mortal Man," in which Kendrick has a running dialogue with Tupac.
They address the inequities they have faced and struggled with. Kendrick ends the track by reading a poem that contains a metaphor for their own cycles of life: the streets, being away from home, and the aftermath.
Kendrick begins the poem by talking about this caterpillar. This little, voiceless caterpillar is stuck on the ground, trying his hardest to survive.
But, because he has to try so hard to survive, he becomes dirty and is shunned by the rest of the world.
This butterfly just across the way, however, is loved solely because it is nice to look at.
The caterpillar grows bitter and begins to hate the butterfly. He is angry because everyone is too busy looking at the butterfly to pay any attention to the desperate caterpillar in need of help.
The caterpillar is unable to realize they are the same and that the butterfly is just a representation of all the good within himself.
He can't see this because of where his perspective lies. His resentment leads him to trap himself inside a cocoon (representative of Kendrick's time spent in New York, which proved to be an incredibly dark time for the young rapper), where he begins to think. The poem ends:
"When trapped inside these walls, certain ideas take root, such as going home and bringing back new concepts to this mad city. "The result? "Wings begin to emerge, breaking the cycle of feeling stagnant. Finally free, the butterfly sheds light on situations that the caterpillar never considered, ending the internal struggle. Although the butterfly and caterpillar are completely different, they are one and the same."
Maybe in the poem, with his injuries being his cocoon, Morgan Freeman was able to emerge a butterfly.
Through his experience, he was able to "bring new concepts [...] and break the cycle of feeling stagnant" to the movements supporting the legalization of marijuana.
Marijuana was one of the first drugs to be criminalized in the United States, after opiates.
This happened in the 1930s, during the Great Depression, partially as a grassroots immigration project targeting Mexicans, who were known to grow and smoke marijuana.
So, we put out movies like "Reefer Madness," and we skewed data and facts in an attempt to make us fear this drug. And it worked.
Marijuana was listed, and still is listed, as a Schedule 1 drug at the federal level. Thousands upon thousands of people have gone to prison for charges related to marijuana, especially young black men.
African Americans make up about 12 percent of the total drug use in America, yet about 59 percent of the inmates are in prison for drug related offenses.
People in black communities throughout the US have continually felt oppressed and targeted by drug related policies and unfair social and political structures. They're hurting, and they need a butterfly.
Morgan Freeman can be seen as a representation of so much good, so much joy and so much delight to so many, but he still is able to recognize the caterpillar inside of himself.
He identifies with the oppressed when he openly admits he smokes marijuana and wholeheartedly stands for its legalization.
He is putting down his image, and he plainly saying to the rest of the world, "I am no different than you."
It represents a kind of unity and a new sense of trust. It is reassuring to see one of the biggest (and perhaps deepest) voices has decided to be an amplifier for those in this world who feel the most voiceless.
Even with Tupac and Kendrick's advocacy for socioeconomic and racial equality, there still hasn't been anyone to be that big, antithetical butterfly the entire world will listen to.
In Tupac and Kendrick's world, they truly are stuck.
There is only a handful of celebrities who can share their struggles of inner city life. Yes, there's Jay-Z. Yes, there was Biggie.
Yes, there have been a number of rappers advocating for the racial disparity in America. But, the world isn't listening to them.
Those who have been oppressed have to shock the world themselves. The caterpillars are so trapped they are never even given the tools or skills to make a cocoon, and no one will help them.
Still, they manage to survive. But since no one will help or listen to them, they have to make people listen.
This is why violence has been breaking out in communities (like Ferguson, Baltimore and New York) suffering from unjust police brutality. But now, the difference is people are listening.
People are proactively moving toward changing things.
This country needs more celebrities like Morgan Freeman to speak out and be butterflies, heroes and beacons of hope for those who need it.
His openness, pure understanding and respect for those who share his cause, no matter where they come from, is something many can learn from.
It is something I feel many will. His "across the board" mentality will surely spread to other social movements and give voices to the most voiceless.