Back in June 2003, long before most anyone had ever heard the name Barack Obama, I wrote this column about a black president, a black God and other deep thoughts. The Chronicle had an early printing deadline for today's issue, and I didn't have time to whip up a new column, so I thought this rerun would be a good pick. If you ask me, I think Obama should give Morgan Freeman a cabinet seat. That's the least he could do.

Would you vote for a black presidential candidate? Better yet, how would you feel if, upon your untimely demise, you stepped through the Pearly Gates and discovered that The Almighty took the form of a black man?

A black president? A black God? Is that shocking? Incomprehensible?

Well, apparently we're cool with it — as long as he's Morgan Freeman. In the past five years, the ultra-acclaimed Freeman has played both the president of the United States and God. I'll bet those roles look good on a resume.

In 1998, Freeman played President Tom Beck in Deep Impact, the story of how Earth braces for a giant comet's impact. This year, Freeman plays God in Bruce Almighty‚ and temporarily abdicates his divine intervention to a complaining television reporter.

The stories are standard Hollywood fare, but what I find delightfully amazing is that there's been no ruckus made of a black man playing the parts of God and the president. Not a peep was made in '98 about Freeman playing the president, and the only controversy from Bruce Almighty is whether a movie about God is borderline blasphemous. Parenthetically, I don't recall people saying George Burns' Oh, God series was sacrilegious or irreverent. I suppose Burns, like Freeman, could do no wrong — they're both very likable.

Oh, I'm sure there are some goose-stepping skinheads somewhere who made a big fuss during their weekly meetings in the basement of the chapter leader's parents' suburban home. That's fine. You can't please everyone, and you can't ever please a skinhead.

Infantile racists aside, we liked Freeman as God and as the president. The roles suit him. He has an incredibly commanding presence, and if you're going to effectively portray the most powerful man on Earth and the most powerful entity in the universe, you'd better have a commanding presence.

OK, sure he's commanding and dignified and one of the most revered actors of his generation and all that, but he's still a black man. It wasn't too long ago that blacks were "directed" to separate restrooms, assigned water fountains and the back of the bus. For generations blacks were relegated to second- or even third-class status in America, and now, relatively recently, there's a black man portraying the president and God — and no one is screaming about it? I find that remarkable. Race relations in this country still have a way to go, but Freeman's recent work has shown how far we've come from the bad ol' days.

Not every black actor could play God. Nor could every white actor, for that matter. I doubt you'll see Chris Rock cast as The Lord, and I'd bet by final greenback that we won't see Colin Farrell starring as God anytime soon. Could a woman convincingly play God? Why not? After all, God moves in mysterious ways takes many forms. Couldn't one of those forms be a woman?

Playing the role of God requires an undefinable set of characteristics. Freeman has it. Burns had it. The fact that Freeman is black, and Burns was white has nothing to do with those characteristics. Freeman and Burns aren't holy, but, as actors, they're able to portray a sense of spirituality and grace. I'm no theologian, but I doubt divinity has a color.

I haven't seen Bruce Almighty yet, but I plan to, although I'll probably wait for the DVD. It's gotten good reviews, and, as you can tell, I'm a fan of Freeman's. Deep Impact was, I thought, an outstanding movie. It came out during the same summer as Armageddon, when Hollywood was seemingly going through an end-of-the-world phase. Of the two flicks, Deep Impact is much more engaging and believable. It stands as a fine example of what Hollywood is capable of when it's not spitting out mass-appeal tripe like Jackass: The Movie.

I just had a profoundly disturbing thought — Johnny Knoxville as the president. Sadly, he'd probably get some votes. He might even carry his home state. UNLESS, and here's a wild thought, he's running against Freeman, who's also a Tennessean. The battle for the Volunteer State — I see a movie in the making.

David Spates is a Knoxville resident and Crossville Chronicle contributor whose column is published each Tuesday. He can be reached at davespates@tds.net.

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