Sean Penn: Zelensky speech at Oscars could've stopped Will Smith slap
The Ukrainian president's request is believed to have been turned down two times in a row after the Oscars producer voiced concern of shedding light on a white-majority conflict as other conflicts involving people of color were not being recognized.
US actor Sean Penn expressed criticism in an interview with Variety magazine against the Oscars for denying Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky's request to speak at the 2022 ceremony, justifying that it would have prevented Will Smith's infamous slap from happening.
Talking about his Ukraine documentary Superpower (co-directed with Aaron Kaufman), he said: "The Oscars producer thought: 'Oh, [Zelensky is] not light-hearted enough.' Well, guess what you got instead? Will Smith!"
He added: "I don’t know Will Smith. I met him once. He seemed very nice when I met him … So why the f*** did you just spit on yourself and everybody else with this stupid f****** thing? Why did I go to f****** 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?"
"This f***** bull**** wouldn’t have happened with Zelensky. Will Smith would never have left that chair to be part of stupid violence. It never would have happened."
Zelensky’s request was reportedly denied twice, first in 2022 and then in 2023, with a string of suggestions that Oscars producer Will Packer was concerned over giving him airtime, considering that conflicts involving mostly people of color do not get the same attention from Hollywood as he does.
Sean Penn, the face of the West
Penn previously threatened to melt down his own Oscars award if Zelenksy was not given airtime, but instead handed one over to him as a "symbolic" loan until the war came to an end.
After calling out Smith's "worst moment as a person", Penn brought up his jail sentence after being convicted in 1987 for reckless driving and punching an extra on the movie set of 'Colors'.
A newspaper report at the time said that Penn "pummelled movie extra Jeffrey Klein, 32, during a break in the filming of Colors at Venice Beach … Penn objected to Klein’s photographing him and actor Robert Duvall and swore and spat at him. When Klein spat back, Penn punched him in the face several times with a closed fist and had to be pulled off him and restrained by members of the crew and cast."
Penn's Ukraine documentary Superpower, due to be released on the Paramount+ streaming service, started before the war in Ukraine began as a documentary about Zelensky’s possible rise to political power after previously being a TV comedian.
Penn became as a result one of the leading supporters for the West’s military aid to Ukraine.
During Superpower’s world premiere at the Berlin film festival back in February, the actor expressed that Americans "are having to take on board a level of shame for not having scaled up sooner with the weapons".