Morgan Freeman is a man on a mission. In 2016, he took viewers on a quest around the world to explore the meaning of life, death, and religion in the Emmy-nominated television series, Story of God, on National Geographic.
Now, Freeman is embarking on another mission with National Geographic, to investigate what it is that unites us all. Each episode will take us across the globe with Freeman to meet resilient individuals who, through their own powerful stories, teach us about the innate forces at work in each of us.
These are the forces that move us and challenge us—the battle between war and peace, the power of love, the thirst for power, the strength of belief, the spirit of rebellion, and the quest for freedom.
The Story of Us With Morgan Freeman was produced by Freeman’s own Revelations Entertainment, which he co-founded with Invictus producer Lori McCreary.
We spoke to all three executive producers—Freeman, McCreary and James Younger— leading up to their much-anticipated, six-part series, premiering on National Geographic on Wednesday, October 11 at 9/8c.
Prior to filming, what was one question you sought to have answered in your quest to understand more about “Us”? Was it answered?
Younger: I wanted to understand whether there were common human traits in every culture in the world. For instance, the perceptions of love—are they different everywhere or is that something that we all share? We can’t answer that question definitively, but we found that the type of self-sacrificing love that parents have for their children is present everywhere. That’s one example.
Freeman: I like to watch the program Planet Earth. I was watching yesterday morning, and it discussed how in the animal world, parents are devoted totally to their young. That filial love is universal and the only way life persists. We as humans have probably made it into a science.
McCreary: The question that I hoped to have answered is, when I wake up in the morning and I see what’s going on around the world, is there still reason to be hopeful?
Given the divisiveness of our current political environment in the States, what would you like Americans in particular to take away from watching The Story of Us?
All: *collective grunts
Freeman: That term “American”…I’d like for that to be it. Leave off the hyphens.
McCreary: To elaborate on Morgan’s statement, there are so many places around the world that we visited where, at one point, things were much more dire than they are here in America; Rwanda in 1994 is one of them.
In post-genocidal Rwanda, the reconciliation there is so inspiring, especially knowing that there were about a million Tutsis murdered there in a little over a month. Look how far they have come as a country to reconcile. They call themselves “Rwandans” now instead of Tutsis and Hutus, and I think when Morgan was just saying “let’s call ourselves American,” we should rally under the idea that we’re all one. Obviously, we have our differences, but I think if we as Americans can rally like the Rwandans have, it’ll make for a better, more peaceful society.
Hurricane Maria has recently caused devastation to millions of U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico. San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz recently said, “Now is not the time for memos, now is the time for action, now is the time for justice, now is the time to get life-supporting supplies into people’s hands." Do you think it is moments of widespread distress such as this that tests us and can ultimately kick-start change or unity?
Freeman: Good question, but, no, I don’t think so. We’ve had these things happen before and people look to the federal government, where we send most of our money, for help in hard times like that. There shouldn’t be a moment of hesitation to get people relief. Not a moment. But what are we seeing?
Younger: There’s a division. Puerto Ricans are Americans, but they aren’t able to vote so they get this sort of second-class status. It’s an example of the cultural divisions that we place, which separates humanity, when we should all be in this together.
McCreary: It seems odd that someone in America would look at Texas differently than they would look at Puerto Rico, but I’m afraid they do.
It seems that most, if not all, of your interview subjects have been through extremely tough times in their lives that have forced them to grow in some way, or to take action in order to catalyze change. Do you believe hardship is necessary for personal growth and a deepened sense of empathy?
Younger: I don’t think it’s necessary, but I think we channel those stories because they’re really shining examples. [The Story of Us] is about what we all share in common, but it’s also really about the power of the human spirit.
McCreary: If you look at what some people have gone through, and see that they’re still out there being activists and helping others, I think it shows that it just takes one of us to make a big difference, no matter what your circumstance is. Morgan asked [a Black Lives Matter activist] if activists are born or made. She said in her case it’s a little of both, and that social media can be a great way to connect like-minded people on causes.
Freeman: The whole NFL situation is an extension of the Black Lives Matter movement. The controversy around Black Lives Matter is an outlet because there’s not the word “too.”
So you think empathy can, in some ways, be activated through social media?
Freeman: Absolutely! Social media is a powerful tool.
Part of what makes us "us" is passion—what truly drives or inspires an individual. For some it may be food, for others it may be music. What is one thing each of you are inspired by that people might be surprised to find out?
Freeman: My passions have come and gone, so to speak. I was passionate about sailing for like 45 years. Then, I got horses and I was very passionate about them. But then I could no longer ride and they basically became pets. I got my pilot’s license and I’m very passionate about that because it’s great fun, but having become less-abled in all three of those categories they no longer qualify as passions.
McCreary: Singing! Oh, and I have a new puppy. I’m passionate about my new puppy.
This interview has been condensed and lightly edited.