There are more than a few famous men who have (allegedly) beaten or raped women and have just kept on being famous. They try to bury their reportedly dark pasts, stomaching the times they may have used physical force to assert power over another human life. Glass half empty, they have (allegedly) beaten or raped women. Glass half full, they are still famous, so, it's fine, not a big deal.
Except, that is, when pot-stirrers like Lee Daniels bring up the fact that the past still exists. In a recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Daniels defended "Empire" actor Terrence Howard, who has previously been accused of violence against women, saying, "that poor boy ain’t done nothing different than Marlon Brando or Sean Penn, and all of a sudden he’s some fuckin’ demon."
Marlon Brando is dead (RIP), but Penn is alive and his feelings were hurt. So hurt, in fact, that he is suing Daniels. "Can you really put a price on feelings?" you may be wondering. And the answer is, yes, feelings cost $10 million. Or anyway, that is how much Penn's lawsuit against Daniels is seeking.
The whole thing is online and makes some really good points about how great Penn is. According to the aforementioned lawsuit, he is:
- An "American icon"
- An "internationally-known film actor recognized for his humanitarian work, journalism, and advocacy for peace and human rights"
- And "one of this generation’s most highly-acclaimed and greatest artists and humanitarians, Sean Penn."
It also states that "Daniels has falsely asserted and/or implied that Penn is guilty of ongoing, continuous violence against women." (Which, what does "ongoing" and "continuous" even mean in the context of violence against women? Is it just punching every member of a Girl Scout troop, going to sleep, waking up and punching every member of a different Girl Scout troop?)
Daniels was attempting to highlight the racial discrepancies between Howard and his white counterparts, but -- cue "Ebony & Ivory" -- it's actually not OK to hit women whether you're black or white. Daniels is basically encountering the issue by saying, "Whatever, guys! Sean Penn did that, too!" And Penn is basically responding by saying, "Actually, I'm a humanitarian and now you owe me $10 million."
Penn's attempt to censor Daniels is only further publicizing the quote, though not because we're suddenly rightfully enraged by the Madonna incidents, both of which are recapped by the New York Post in a piece titled "Why Would Anyone Want To Date Sean Penn?":
In 1987, Penn reportedly struck his then-wife, Madonna, across the head with a baseball bat....
In December 1988, Penn allegedly tied Madonna to a chair in their Malibu home and attacked her. The nine-hour ordeal only ended when the singer was untied to use the bathroom and she fled to a police station.
Madonna did not press charges in either case, so in a sense, Penn's suit saying he was never convicted of domestic abuse is accurate. Still, a case against Daniels will only work to draw more attention to his past. And after being famous for more than three decades, Penn has to understand that, right? Maybe he just wants to remind us he's an "American icon." Maybe he needs $10 million dollars so he can buy this diamond chandelier.
What's clear is the impact of both Penn and Daniels. Here is yet another dialogue about violence against women driven ... by men. Men who, in an attempt to protect their professional interests and reputations, are using their privileged male voices to dominate media conversations.
Whether it's an accused man making statements to the public, or another man making jabs at the accused, men's accounts of abuse speak volumes. (Remember, women were accusing Cosby of rape for decades before Hannibal Buress got our attention with a joke.) This dynamic not only perpetuates the culture of silence for victims of abuse, but is implicit in allowing abuse to continue at the highest stratospheres of fame.
We have to recognize what voices are the loudest and refuse to let them stop us from making the right kind of noise.
Middlebrow is a recap of the week in entertainment, celebrity and television news that provides a comprehensive look at the state of pop culture. From the rock bottom to highfalutin, Middlebrow is your accessible guidebook to the world of entertainment. Sign up to receive it in your inbox here.
Follow Lauren Duca on Twitter: @laurenduca