Sean Penn Reminds Us: Famous Men Get Away With Abuse

Above: Sean Penn has filed a $10 million defamation lawsuit against 'Empire' co-creator Lee Daniels for implying the Oscar-winning actor abuses women

On Tuesday, Sean Penn filed a $10 million defamation lawsuit against Empire co-creator Lee Daniels. The complaint, filed with the New York State Supreme Court, asserts that in Daniels’ recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter he falsely accused Penn of abusing women by comparing him to Empire star Terrence Howard, who has a long history of domestic violence.

“That poor boy,” Daniels told THR in reference to Howard’s recent legal troubles and long history of domestic abuse allegations. “[Terrence] ain’t done nothing different than Marlon Brando or Sean Penn, and all of a sudden he’s some f—in’ demon,” said Daniels. “That’s a sign of the time, of race, of where we are right now in America.”

In Penn’s 10-page complaint (read it in full here), he makes oblique reference to reports that Howard’s rap sheet includes multiple charges of assault and that the actor himself recently admitted to Rolling Stone that he hit his first wife. Penn’s defamation lawsuit frames Daniels’ accusation as nothing more than slander and power-play.The only thing that Penn’s lawsuit does is help him erase his own abusive past without ever acknowledging it.

“As a result of Penn’s status as a public figure, he has for years been the subject of scandalous, scurrilous, and baseless attacks,” a portion of this statement reads. “But Penn, like any citizen, has a right to defend himself and will no longer tolerate the reckless and malicious behaviour of others, who seek to aggrandize themselves or their projects at his expense. Accordingly, and because of Daniels’ defamatory statements, Penn brings this action for monetary relief, and to deter Daniels and others from their defamatory actions.”

It’s true, Penn was never actually charged with domestic assault. He does however, have a long history of violent outbursts and a history of domestic abuse, which gives Daniels’ comparison some teeth. The only thing that Penn’s lawsuit does is help him erase his own abusive past without ever acknowledging it.

Sean Penn and Madonna in New York City in 1986

Penn had a tumultuous history with ex-wives Madonna and Robin Wright. In June 1987, Madonna was admitted to the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles after Penn hit her across the head with a baseball bat. Madonna allegedly did not make an official complaint because Penn was about to serve a short jail term for attacking a film extra. He would eventually serve 33 days of a 60-day sentence in the Los Angeles County jail.

In December 1988, Penn flew into a drunken rage and scaled the wall into Madonna’s Malibu house. According to a report filed by Madonna with the Malibu Sheriff’s office, the two began to fight and when she told him she was leaving, Penn bound her to a chair with heavy twine. Penn tortured Madonna for nine hours, until she was able to flee the house and call the police from her car.

Penn was charged with domestic assault and a week after the incident, in January 1989, Madonna filed for divorce citing irreconcilable differences. That same day she dropped the assault charges.

Sean Penn isn’t the only Hollywood celebrity with a history of violence against women. The list of celebs is long.

Charlie Sheen and Denise Richards

Actor Charlie Sheen has a history of violence against women that begins more than two decades ago, when he shot his fiancée Kelly Preston. Through the years assault charges have been filed against Sheen by a UCLA student, former girlfriend Brittany Ashland, ex-wife Denise Richards, ex-wife Brooke Mueller, and adult film star Capri Anderson. Of course, Sheen has accused any woman who accounts such abuse of being a liar.

Actor Sean Connery’s first wife, Diane Cilento, has alleged that he verbally and physically abused her throughout their 11-year marriage (Connery openly advocated slapping women in a 1987 interview with Barbara Walters). Funk legend Rick James was arrested for torturing and sexually abusing a woman for three straight days. Actor Bill Murray’s ex-wife Jennifer Murray requested a restraining order against her husband when she filed for divorce in 2008 on the grounds of physical abuse.

The list goes on: actor Josh Brolin, signer Chris Brown, singer Bobby Brown, actor Nicolas Cage, country music singer Glen Campbell, hip-hop producer Dr. Dre, rapper Eminem, rapper Flavor Flav, actor Michael Fassbender, Mötley Crüe’s Tommy Lee, legendary singer songwriter John Lennon, Emmy Award-winning actor Harry Morgan, actor Gary Oldman, former pro basketball player Dennis Rodman, and former undisputed heavyweight champion of the world Mike Tyson. These are all men who have a documented history of violence against women. These are also all men whose careers have remained intact or thrived after the allegations.

It’s astounding how many famous men have been given a free pass from their terrible crimes against women from an adoring public, able to chuff off these crimes with accusations of slander, as Penn and Sheen have done. Surely fame should not give men a free pass to abuse women, but when we do not hold these men publicly accountable, that’s exactly what we are giving them. Penn has taken home two Academy Awards and Sheen’s film and television career thrived after his highly publicized 2006 divorce from Richards. Interestingly enough, the same cannot be said for her career.

When we award these men or allow their careers to thrive we make abuse against women acceptable. These men need to be held publically accountable for their actions.

The first step? The long list of famous men who abuse women should be recognized. Over and over again.

Tags: Madonna, Sean Penn, The Editor’s Blog

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  1. Avatar
    • PJ
    • March 20, 2021

    Thank you for this article. Thank you for helping hold men accountable and helping expose the fame/talent/charm excuse. It’s very upsetting and real and we need more people looking out and speaking up. And being willing to be uncomfortable in order to do so.

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