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Toxic Masculinity, Part 2: Sean Penn Sues Lee Daniels Over Misguided Comments Regarding Terrence Howard

SO much to unpack here.

sean penn


So, after that weird and disturbing Terrence Howard interview in Rolling Stone that basically laid bare a case-study in toxic masculinity for all to see, it seems we have more on display in response to it.

In a recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Lee Daniels, co-creator of the FOX hit, Empire, said the following about the recent surge in interest in Howard’s history of violence:

[Terrence] ain’t done nothing different than Marlon Brando or Sean Penn, and all of a sudden he’s some f—in’ demon. That’s a sign of the time, of race, of where we are right now in America.

Never mind that, um, people have had plenty to say about Marlon Brando and Sean Penn. Like, lots to say. It’s just that, with Howard having been given the starring role on one of television’s most successful dramas, the fact that he’s the latest man to exhibit this level of violent behavior is cause for discussion. While, yes, there are very definite, very real instances in the media where public figures are disproportionately criticized on the basis of race, I don’t think this is one of those instances. The conversation with regard to Howard is warranted. He’s admitted to hitting the women in his life, and he makes no apologies for his violent behavior, all the while spewing talk about “real men.” This is not the media creating something out of nothing. This is the media dissecting something that exists.

Meanwhile, Sean Penn – ever the King of Overreacting, has decided to sue Lee Daniels in a $10 Million defamation lawsuit for the comments using his name. From the lawsuit:

As a result of Penn’s status as a public figure, he has for years been the subject of scandalous, scurrilous, and baseless attacks. But Penn, like any citizen, has a right to defend himself and will no longer tolerate the reckless and malicious behavior 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.


Third, and most problematic, Daniels falsely equates Penn with Howard, even though, while he has certainly had several brushes with the law, Penn (unlike Howard) has never been arrested, much less convicted, for domestic violence, as his ex-wives (including Madonna) would confirm and attest.

I think that last bit is my favorite part of the lawsuit, and the most laughable. Penn is apparently splitting hairs, because he’s never hit a woman, and he’s never been arrested. So, his history of violent outbursts doesn’t count, because he never got convicted and starred in freaking Mystic River.

Here we have Howard, Daniels, and Penn: all deflecting the issue. All, at the core, looking for ways to defend the idea that it’s OK for men to hit, to be violent, to be given to fits of violent rage – against women, against restaurant patrons, against paparazzi. All three of these men would rather talk about anything else – about race, about defamation, about what it means to be a “real man” – rather than discuss the fact that maybe, just maybe, all of this violence that none of them actually wants to address head-on…is a problem. That it’s something with which they are each – with their silence, their deflections, and their actions – infecting our culture. It has to stop.

And men in the public eye need to start speaking up and speaking out against this version of masculinity – the version that destroys and doesn’t create; the version that doesn’t value women; the version that encourages harm in order to prove a point. I would love for little boys growing up today to know that there’s another way – that being a man doesn’t mean punching problems in the face and never crying when you’re hurt. Being a man – hell, being an adult person – means wielding your power responsibly, and treating fellow humans with respect.

(via The Hollywood Reporter)

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Teresa Jusino (she/her) is a native New Yorker and a proud Puerto Rican, Jewish, bisexual woman with ADHD. She's been writing professionally since 2010 and was a former TMS assistant editor from 2015-18. Now, she's back as a contributing writer. When not writing about pop culture, she's writing screenplays and is the creator of your future favorite genre show. Teresa lives in L.A. with her brilliant wife. Her other great loves include: Star Trek, The Last of Us, anything by Brian K. Vaughan, and her Level 5 android Paladin named Lal.