Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Black Woman at the Intersection: Sean Penn vs. Lee Daniels

This is not going to be some super thoughtful post such as one Tammy Winfrey Harris would write. This post is just me saying, "What the hell!" Sean Penn has filed a $1,000,000 defamation lawsuit against Lee Daniels, the man behind Fox's saucy, ground-breaking, hit show Empire. And as a black person who is also a woman, here I am squished at the intersection of being female and black. To whom should I remain loyal in this situation, a wealthy black man pointing out the plight of black people or women who are also opppressed? What is my opinion and why did Daniels and Penn have to go public with their jackass behavior?

On one side we have Penn pulling a typical white male of privilege move. He's suing a black man for millions of dollars for saying something numerous white-owned magazines have reported for decades.

And on the other side we have Daniels, a successful black man who seems to be more concerned about defending a man who's admitted to beating women than he is to finding a better way to tell reporters, "Stop asking us about that." He instead said something that gives the impression that it may be okay for Howard to beat women because white men do it all the time and get away with it. I know that's not what he meant, but it feels like he's in the ballpark of that poor logic.

The Penn-Daniels feud began with Daniels's statement in an interview with the Hollywood Reporter regarding one of the Empire stars, Terrence Howard. In an effort to defend Howard against constant questions about his domestic violence incidents, Daniels called out racism and brought up Penn's name along with Marlon Brando's in a "white guys have all the luck" kind of way. (He should have gone for Sean Connery, too, while he was at it.)
"[Terrence] ain't done nothing different than Marlon Brando or Sean Penn, and all of a sudden he's some f—in' demon," says Daniels. "That's a sign of the time, of race, of where we are right now in America."

See what Daniels tried to do there? But his deflection game is off.

He's alluding to the the double standard to which black men are held versus white men. And it's true that black men are berated and punished more harshly than white men for the same crimes. But Lee, really? Who writes this man's talking points, and why didn't he follow the advice given to everyone else working on Empire? If asked about Howard, say nothing.

I can possibly understand why Daniels, as Empire's co-creator, thought he should speak out, but he definitely said the wrong thing because:

  1. Howard has beaten women.
  2. It's never a good idea to defend yourself or others by saying, "Well, Johnny over there is also guilty."

Here is what Daniels could have said, "Terrence knows he was wrong. He has admitted to his deeds, and he's trying to change. How does constantly bringing it up help him work through this?"

Let me stop here a moment and say, "It is wrong for men to beat women." And "It is wrong for men to beat women."

But Penn, you also have a lot of nerve.

Multiple entertainment and gossip news sources, such as Huffington Post and TMZ, report Penn's lawsuit claims:
Daniels' statements are "egregious," as well as "reckless and malicious," as Howard has "reportedly, and publicly, admitted to physically abusing at least one woman and reportedly been arrested approximately five times for violent acts against women." As such, Penn finds the comparison to the "Empire" star to be untrue, claiming that while he has had 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.'

It may be true that Penn was never arrested or convicted of domestic violence, but Daniels's statement was neither "egregious" nor "malicious." Reckless? Maybe -- but not for the reasons Penn says. It was a reckless statement because Daniels should have avoided saying anything that sounded like he was defending a man who's admitted to beating women.

Maybe Penn's suing because he is hard up for cash and craves the spotlight again. He also claims that Daniels mentioned him to get publicity for Empire. Again, really, Penn? Who's riding high right now, you or Empire? Didn't your last film, The Gunman, lose money?

As far as malice goes, that's probably just lawyer talk. Unless Penn's attorney can prove that Daniels has some seething beef against Penn, it's hard to argue malice. The lawsuit is probably just blowing smoke, too. A cease and desist letter telling Daniels that Penn has never been arrested or charged with such an act and maybe a public statement saying, "I want Daniels to stop it" would have sufficed. All the lawsuit is doing is reminding a new generation that Penn used to be extremely volatile and violent. I mean, how many people under 30 would know that Penn spent time in jail for assault without this lawsuit spotlighting him?

It's even difficult to argue that what Daniels said was egregious because Daniels is only slightly older than I am, so we're of a generation that recalls Penn's former life as Hollywood's bad boy.

About 30 years ago or so, I recall, stories that police had to go to Penn's home because his then-wife, Madonna, accused him of domestic violence. As that screen shot shows, the Associated press reported the story in 1989. Did Penn sue the AP wire? Has Penn been suing every publication and news show that's repeated the story since then?

Madonna's accusations may have been purely her speaking in anger because the pair was going through a vicious divorce, but it's also true that due to Penn's repeated run-ins with police for punching people in the face and hitting at least one guy over the head with a bottle, it's reasonable that Daniels and everyone else who read an article like the AP story back then to have believed that Madonna was telling the truth.

That the superstar dropped the charges against her husband later means nothing. Any divorce lawyer will tell you that women are pressured to drop domestic violence charges all the time, and many do. "Do you want him to have this on his record? This will ruin his career. He won't be able to bring in any income." That's usually the kind of thing women are told. So, some of these women decide not to see a prosecution through, especially if they feel guilty about their part in the fight or split. They know the American justice system prefers pure victims.

Did Sean Penn hit Madonna? I don't know, and if he did, he's probably not that man now. I think that he's matured and has learned to control himself. He's also tried to help people and do more good in the world. Still, is his getting in a huff and suing Daniels is a sign that Penn is regressing?

I believe that like anyone else Penn, as well as Howard, wishes people will stop bringing up his past misdeeds whatever they may be. Nonetheless, my questions to him are: Why doesn't that 1989 AP story say something like, "Penn denies ever hitting his estranged wife?"

Also, Daniels didn't start the rumor that Penn has beaten a woman. Madonna did that. Why isn't he suing her and the many publications that have since then reported the accusation? Why is Daniels his target?

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