The two-time Oscar winner says today that the co-creator of the biggest show on the Big 4 used “false and defamatory” language to imply he has abused women. The statements by Lee Daniels in a recent Hollywood Reporter interview compared Sean Penn to Empire star Terrence Howard in a manner the actor clearly does not agree with, and now he’s going after The Butler director in the courts and the wallet to the tune of at least $10 million.
“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,” says the jury trial-seeking defamation complaint filed Tuesday by Mathew Rosengart of L.A.’s Greenberg Traurig on behalf of Penn (read it here). Representatives for Daniels did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
“Sean is dismayed at the gratuitous attacks and statements that have been made over the years at his expense, and he wants to take a stand and correct the record,” Rosengart told Deadline today. Under the law in NY State, where the complaint was filed, part of Rosengart’s efforts for Penn in the case will be having to prove that Daniels truly knew that what he was saying about the Mystic River actor was untrue. And, with all the statements made over the years about Penn, to paraphrase the filing, that may be difficult depending how such knowledge is accessed.
Daniels, in the THR piece, condemned the public persona that Howard seemed to have gained by past run-ins with the courts and other accusations from ex-wives. He “ain’t done nothing different than Marlon Brando or Sean Penn, and all of a sudden he’s some f*ckin’ demon,” Daniels said. “That’s a sign of the time, of race, of where we are right now in America.”
That’s not the sign that Penn saw in Daniels’ words.
“As a result of Penn’s status as a public figure, he has for years been the subject of scandalous, scurrilous, and baseless attacks,” adds the suit filed today in the Empire State courts. “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.”
The lawsuit comes just one day before the Season 2 debut of Empire, the blockbuster hip-hop drama on Fox. A fact Rosengart notes in a manner in the complaint, alleging that Daniels’ remarks about Howard and hence Penn were “apparently part of a misguided campaign to profit and further bolster and brand his show Empire.”