Morgan Freeman: Mankind Will Perish If We Don't Learn to Live Together

The world is divided. That much is true. From the political upheaval in America, to the refugee crisis in Europe, and the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar, we are living in turbulent times.

But Morgan Freeman, the Academy Award-winning actor and television producer, is looking to explore what binds us as a human race. In a new six-part National Geographic docuseries, The Story of Us, Freeman seeks out answers to how we as one world can co-exist. It’s a mammoth task, even for the man famously dubbed the voice of God for his ubiquitous sonorous voice.

Over the course of the episodes, which touch on themes of love, power, freedom, peace, rebellion and social division, Freeman speaks to extraordinary people from all over the world, including former U.S. President Bill Clinton and President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, a country that has experienced immense healing after years of civil war.

As well as taking the role of presenter, Freeman, 80, produced the series with his longtime producing partner Lori McCreary and frequent collaborator James Younger. The Nat Geo series is an extension, of sorts, of Freeman’s The Story of God, which ran for two seasons and was nominated for an Emmy Award in 2016.

Ahead of The Story of Us premiering on Nat Geo Wednesday, Freeman, McCreary and Younger spoke to Newsweek about how the stories in the show can resonate with viewers and their hope for the future, as well as their thoughts on President Donald Trump.

The message of this series is one that seems very appropriate to our times. Why do you feel it’s important that America—and indeed the world—watches The Story of Us?

Morgan Freeman: Hope is very important to me. I don’t mean to be preaching to anyone about anything, but we’re just revealing what we think are necessary truths about ourselves and our present condition—who we are, why we are, where we are. It’s a very small, after all, planet. We either are going to share it, or not. And if we don’t share it, that means no-one’s going to be here because no one group is going to be left.

James Younger: We’re a social species. We’ve come this far by working together, but we haven’t been confronted until recently with all the various tribes of us being in such close proximity and fluid movement between each other, so we’re running into problems more, and more, and more. We have to get over this big hurdle. How do we retain our local, cultural identities and yet live alongside people who are different from us? This is the challenge of this century, I think.

Lori McCreary: And the more we isolate ourselves from what we might look at someone who might be different than us, or as “the other,” the harder it is to bridge that gap. So, we hope, going into these different cultures and seeing [that] we all, at a fundamental level, have the same yearnings, desires and the human spirit is very strong in all of these areas... I think there’s a chance we can see how similar we are.

The themes of power, social division and freedom are all topics that feel overwhelming right now in the world and particularly America. How did the U.S. presidential election last year affect your topic choices?

Younger: Some of it was in place before November 8 last year. We knew we wanted to do a film about power, about love, about freedom, about peace. We didn’t quite know we were going to make a film called “Us and Them” and that really gelled from the events in the last year.

Morgan Freeman talks to Bill Clinton in "The Story of Us Morgan Freeman talks to Bill Clinton in 'The Story of Us.' National Geographic

Related: Morgan Freeman speaks on NFL protests, says World War II forces fought "for the right to take a knee"

Is this the most divisive time you can remember?

Freeman: Well, I remember the Civil War. It was played out on television. [Laughs] I was a child during World War II, I was a grown-up during the Vietnam war when there was fighting in not just in Vietnam, but fighting in the streets here, over the idea of fights over there. We’re in quite peaceful times right now [in comparison].

McCreary: I thought that this was the most strife that I’ve ever felt. But when Morgan was interviewing President Clinton, he reminded us that this is a cyclical thing. My parents and Morgan’s generation remember times that felt worse than what we’re feeling now. I felt better hearing him say that because I wake up in the morning thinking, “What is happening?”

How do you address Trump in the series, if at all?

Freeman: We don’t. When we did this, that wasn’t happening.

McCreary: We address what’s happening today, this nationalism that’s not just in America, but other places around the world—societies that have had fractures over us and them, the other, someone who looks different, or has a different religion. I think that’s our way of addressing what’s happening in America, too. It’s not just an American phenomenon. There’s a tribalism that’s bubbling up [globally].

In the episode “The March of Freedom,” Mr. Freeman, you look at a rough draft of the Declaration of Independence in which Thomas Jefferson writes all men are “endowed by their creator with inherent and inalienable rights.” The “inherent,” implying independence is something all are born with, even slaves, was removed from the final version. How do you relate that marginalization of certain Americans then, with events like the Charlottesville unrest, which, again, appears to want to cause marginalization in America?

Freeman: The growth in population on the planet, specifically here, is one of the causes, I think, that people feel they have to create space for themselves. There are people who think that Nazism, the idea of a very, very strong culture, is a good idea. They still believe that. And what you believe is your truth. And we’ll always be confronted with these ideas. As long as we’re in control of ourselves.

One episode is titled “The Spirit of Rebellion.” Now more than ever, youth across the world might feel powerless to make a difference: It’s mostly older voters who voted to elect Trump, or voted for Brexit in the U.K. What is the spirit of rebellion in 2017?

Freeman: Can you look down on your desk and tell me what you see? Do you see an iPhone? Mine is in front of me. Every child has one. This kind of connection, particularly among young people, I think, is one of the causes, one of the impetuses, for a certain kind of youthful rebellion.

McCreary: Morgan is right. In a time when we didn’t have computers and phones in front of us, if we had an impulse to do something against what was going, it was a feeling [of] us against everyone. With the advent of these devices it’s much easier to find people who think the same.

The Story of Us with Morgan Freeman premieres with “The March of Freedom” Wednesday at 9 p.m. on National Geographic.

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