Sean Penn has filed a $10m defamation action against Empire co-creator Lee Daniels over comments comparing the actor to the show’s star Terrence Howard, who has been repeatedly accused of domestic violence.
Daniels’ comments appeared online about a week ago in the entertainment publication The Hollywood Reporter, in a story about the upcoming season of the popular Fox television show.
“That poor boy (Terrence) ain’t done nothing different than Marlon Brando or Sean Penn, and all of a sudden he’s some ... demon,” Daniels said in the article. “That’s a sign of time, of race, of where we are right now in America.”
Penn’s lawsuit, filed in Manhattan civil court, says Daniels’ statements were egregious and injured his credibility and reputation personally, professionally and in his philanthropic activities.
Penn, who won two best actor Oscars, for Mystic River and Milk, has made a major humanitarian push in Haiti after it was devastated by an earthquake, co-founding the J/P Haitian Relief Organisation.
But he also has a reputation for angry behaviour. In 2010 he pleaded no contest to vandalism after he kicked a celebrity photographer, but the case later was dismissed.
In the 1980s, he was in court in connection with fisticuffs and spitting. He beat a man he thought was trying to kiss then wife Madonna in a nightclub, and he admitted driving recklessly and punching an extra on the set of the movie Colors.
His lawyer Mathew Rosengart said the lawsuit was not just about Daniels’ comments.
“Sean has been the subject of numerous baseless attacks over the years, as the complaint provides, and this is only the most recent example,” he said.
Daniels is the Oscar-nominated film-maker of Precious: Based On The Novel Push by Sapphire, The Paperboy and The Butler. The new season of Empire, which he created with Danny Strong, starts today.
A call to Daniels’ publicist seeking comment on the lawsuit was not immediately returned.
Howard has been forced to publicly address domestic violence allegations, including during evidence in a Los Angeles court in August, when he acknowledged he struck his first wife in 2001, but denied abusing another ex-wife, Michelle Ghent.
Howard gave evidence about the 2001 incident in Pennsylvania and said he drove to his ex-wife’s house after an argument and “kicked down the door and smacked her”. He said it was the “only time I’ve struck a woman” when it was not self-defence.
Ms Ghent accused Howard of abusing her on a trip to Costa Rica in 2013 and has a restraining order against him. Howard denied abusing her.
In August a judge overturned a Howard-Ghent divorce settlement that entitled her to a portion of his Empire earnings after finding she had coerced him into signing it or facing leaks of embarrassing information about him.
In making the finding, the judge said Howard’s claims of self-defence during his fights with Ms Ghent were “not credible.”