(CN) – Sean Penn sued “Empire” co-creator Lee Daniels for $10 million over statements in the Hollywood Reporter that called the actor “guilty of ongoing, continuous violence against women.”
In a complaint filed in New York Supreme Court on Tuesday, a day before the hit show returned to Fox for its second season, Penn said “reckless, false, and defamatory statements” by Daniels damaged his reputation as “one of this generation’s most highly-acclaimed and greatest artists and humanitarians.”
Months after the first season of “Empire” premiered, Daniels gave an interview to Lacey Rose of The Hollywood Reporter, which was posted online Sept. 16, the complaint states.
In the cover story, Daniels purported to “‘defend’ the ongoing legal and related troubles of [nonparty] actor Terrence Howard, the star of ‘Empire’ – who has reportedly, and publicly, admitted to physically abusing at least one woman and reportedly been arrested approximately five times for violent acts against women,” according to the complaint (emphasis in original).
Daniels allegedly said he “‘can’t help himself’ from commenting on Howard’s ‘saga.'”
He then allegedly stated: “‘That poor boy, [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.'” (Brackets in original).
The comments were instantly picked up by numerous blogs and entertainment and mainstream news sites like The Huffington Post, Eonline, and The Daily Mail, Penn claims.
“Daniels’ statements are egregious on several levels,” the complaint states. “First, in his purported ‘defense’ of Howard, Daniels not only appears to acknowledge Howard’s guilt, he also seems to condone Howard’s reported misconduct. Second, Daniels’ ‘defense’ of Howard (and his improper invocation of two of the greatest actors and humanitarians of our time, Brando and Penn, in doing so) is apparently part of a misguided campaign to profit and further bolster and brand his show ‘Empire’ (on the eve of The Emmy Awards, when the statements were made.”
“Third, and most problematic,” the complaint continues, “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. Nor has Penn admitted to ‘slapp[ing]’ a woman or abusing others (as Howard has also reportedly admitted, reportedly asserting that he was acting in self-defense).” (Parentheses and brackets in original).
The complaint touts Penn as an “American icon,” noting his five Academy Award nominations and two Academy Awards for Best Actor, for “Mystic River” and “Milk.”
Indeed, the complaint lists six other artistic awards Penn received from 2002 to 2008, and 11 awards he received for his “well known and prodigious” humanitarian work.
After helping in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005, Penn established, “one of the world’s leading and most successful NGOs in Haiti, the J/P Haitian Relief Organization,” which has raised “tens of millions” for the country after a catastrophic January 2010 earthquake, he claims.
Penn was knighted by Haitian President Rene Preval later that year, and named Ambassador-at-Large for Haiti and earned the Nobel Peace Summit Award in 2012, the complaint states.
The star has also written for Time, Rolling Stone, and other publications, including a five-part report on the election leading up to Ahmadinejad’s regime in Iran, and interviews with the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Cuban President Raul Castro.
Penn “has for years been the subject of scandalous, scurrilous, and baseless attacks,” according to the complaint. “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.”
The complaint alleges one count of defamation against Daniels and 100 unnamed, “legally responsible” defendants.
Penn is represented by Mathew Rosengart in Los Angeles and New York.
Daniels’ counsel has yet to comment on the lawsuit.
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