Sean Penn has said he is “very suspicious” of the #MeToo movement and claimed its “spirit” is “dividing men and women”.
The #MeToo movement began in 2006 when social activist Tarana Burke began using the phrase on social media. It found a resurgence in 2017 after actor Alyssa Milano encouraged Twitter users to use the hashtag to draw attention to the problem of sexual misconduct.
Penn and co-star Natasha McElhone appeared on NBC’s Today show on Monday (September 17) to promote new TV series, The First. The conversation turned to the rise in women speaking out about their experiences of sexual misconduct. “This is a movement that was largely shouldered by a kind of receptacle of the salacious,” the actor said.
Asked to explain what he meant by host Natalie Morales, the 58-year-old said: “Well, we don’t know what’s a fact in many of the cases. Salacious is as soon as you call something a movement that is really a series of many individual accusers, victims, accusations, some of which are unfounded.”
He added that he believed “the spirit of much of what has been the #MeToo movement is to divide men and women.” Penn claimed that women he has spoken to have said the media discussion around the issue doesn’t represent the whole story.
“I don’t want it to be a trend and I’m very suspicious of a movement that gets glommed onto in great stridency and rage, and without nuance,” he said. “And even when people try to discuss it in a nuanced way, the nuance itself is attacked. I think it’s too black and white. In most things that are very important, it’s really good to just slow down.”
Earlier this year, Penn told The Guardian the #MeToo movement was “not intellectually honest”, adding that he thought it was a “movement led by mania” and full of “self-aggrandisement and venting.”
In April, the star reflected on working with Donald Trump’s former Chief Strategist Steve Bannon. The political figure served as executive producer on Penn’s directorial debut, The Indian Runner.
“Bannon was then, as he is now, simply another bitter Hollywood wannabe who went rogue by way of toxic narcissistic iconoclasm,” the actor said. “But, deep in his heart, he’s just a conniving hateful bloated punk who despises mankind. And then there are also the bad things about him.”