Sean Penn has reiterated his offer to have one of his Oscars melted down by Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky – saying his gift to the battling leader was inspired by his “continuing shame towards the Motion Picture Academy.”
Penn debuted his documentary Superpower, detailing Zelensky’s leadership and Ukrainians’ courage following Russian invasion, at the Berlin International Film Festival and told press on Saturday:
“The Oscar is there in his office, and ready to be melted any time he wants to melt it.
He called the gift of the statuette “a small gesture, symbolic between two friends – inspired by my continuing shame towards the leadership of the Motion Picture Academy in choosing to present Will Smith smacking Chris Rock rather than the greatest symbol of cinema and humanity living today. Their loss.”
Penn gave one of his two Oscars for Best Actor to Zelensky last year after the pair became friends during the filming of the documentary.
The actor had previously pledged to “smelt” his Oscar if the Academy did not invite Zelensky to appear at the 2022 Oscars, saying at the time: “There is nothing greater that the Academy Awards could do than to give him that opportunity to talk to all of us… It is my understanding that a decision has been made not to do it.”
Penn and his co-director Aaron Kaufman began filming Superpower in early 2021, with a full-scale invasion of Ukraine by Vladimir Putin still a distant threat.
The pair travelled to Ukraine in February 2022 and met President Zelensky for the first time the night before his country was invaded.
As explosions rocked the city, Penn and Kaufman became front-row witnesses to what Kaufman described as a “David and Goliath” struggle.
Penn revealed he had never tried to contact Russian president Putin or include him in the film. The director made no apology for making Superpower “a not unbiased film,” explaining:
“It was very early quite clear to us that we were not going to let our film be a podium for transparent deception, and that’s all Mr Putin had to offer.
“We would have been better served talking to a wall.
“This is not an unbiased film because it’s not an ambiguous war. Mr Putin has said far too much already.”
Penn conducted the first of multiple interviews with Zelensky on the night of the invasion, having met him for the first time the previous evening. He remembered:
“Our first meeting was on the 23rd (February 2022), then we went back to the hotel and that night the missiles started coming in and what had been a head of state wearing a suit, the next time we saw him he was in camos and his country was at war. He says in the film, he was born for this moment. I had been told of the offer by Americans to him to evacuate, and it was very clear to us within a couple of moments, he wasn’t going anywhere.”
Of his admiration for Zelensky, Penn added:
“Aside from meeting my children at their birth, the highlight of meeting and sensing a great human heart of courage was that day, with that man.
“There’s no threat that scares Zelensky or the Ukrainians.”
Penn and Kaufman both said they hoped their film would be influential in leveraging more American support for Ukraine, with Penn pressing for the provision of long-range precision missiles to a country that, he said, “had all the dreams and aspirations that we all share, and all movies share, about the better us.”
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