Sean Penn claims Will Smith’s Oscar slap could have been avoided if Zelenskyy had been at ceremony

Sean Penn speaking at the press conference for the film 'Superpower' during the Berlin Film Festival - Feb 2023
Sean Penn speaking at the press conference for the film 'Superpower' during the Berlin Film Festival - Feb 2023 Copyright AP Photo
By David Mouriquand
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“This fucking bullshit wouldn’t have happened with Zelenskyy. Will Smith would never have left that chair to be part of stupid violence,” says Oscar winner Sean Penn in new interview.

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Two-time Oscar winner Sean Penn has made some interesting claims in a recent, no-punches-pulled interview with Variety.

Promoting his documentary Superpower, which premiered earlier this year at the Berlin Film Festival and lands on Paramount+ on 18 September, Penn criticized the Academy Awards for not including Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy in the Oscar telecast.

“The Oscars producer thought, ‘Oh, he’s not lighthearted enough.’ Well, guess what you got instead? Will Smith!” said Penn in the interview, referring to Smith’s infamous slap against presenter Chris Rock shortly before his Best Actor acceptance speech.

“I don’t know Will Smith. I met him once,” Penn continued. “He seemed very nice when I met him. He was so fucking good in King Richard. So why the fuck did you just spit on yourself and everybody else with this stupid fucking thing? Why did I go to fucking jail for what you just did? And you’re still sitting there? Why are you guys standing and applauding his worst moment as a person?”

For those confused, Penn refers here to his jail sentence in 1987 for reckless driving and punching an extra on the set of his movie Colors.

“This fucking bullshit wouldn’t have happened with Zelenskyy. Will Smith would never have left that chair to be part of stupid violence,” Penn said.

AP Photo/Markus Schreiber
Volodymyr Zelenskyy addresses the audience via video link during the opening ceremony at the International Film Festival Berlin - 16 Feb 2023AP Photo/Markus Schreiber

Superpower was co-directed with Aaron Kaufman and is an earnest chronicle of Zelenskyy’s improbable political ascension after his previous career as a TV comedian. It depicts the 2022’s Russian invasion of Ukraine; it is a well-meaning and at time inspiring doc, but one that stumbles into self-promotion at best, shallow propaganda at worst.

Penn introduced Zelenskyy’s virtual appearance at the 2023 Golden Globes, and said last year that he would smelt his statuettes in support of Ukraine if Zelenskyy failed to be invited to the Academy Awards. Zelenskyy’s request to address the Oscar ceremony was reportedly turned down twice, in 2023 as well as 2022, with suggestions that Oscars producer Will Packer had expressed concern over allowing Zelenskyy too much airtime.

“I thought, Well, fuck, you know? I’ll give them to Ukraine,” Penn told Variety. “They can be melted down to bullets they can shoot at the Russians.”

Instead of smelting his Oscars, Penn ended up gifting Zelenskyy one of his Oscars last November, a gesture that the actor himself described as “a symbolic, silly thing,” and which earned him widespread mockery from social media.

“I told him to keep it and bring it to Malibu after all this is over and his country is safe,” Penn said. In return, Zelenskyy honored Penn with the Order of Merit of the III degree for outstanding service, as well as a commemorative plaque.

AP/Ukrainian Presidential Press Office
Penn handing his Oscar to Zelenskyy - 8 Nov 2022AP/Ukrainian Presidential Press Office

In the same Variety interview, Penn also expressed his distrust for the studios’ proposed use of artificial intelligence in the SAG-AFTRA negotiations.

“So you want my scans and voice data and all that. OK, here’s what I think is fair: I want your daughter’s, because I want to create a virtual replica of her and invite my friends over to do whatever we want in a virtual party right now. Would you please look at the camera and tell me you think that’s cool?”

No, that’s far from cool. And a slightly disproportionate reaction, to say the least, despite the troubling AI practices from studios and the ongoing writers and actors strikes in the US.

Additional sources • Variety

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