- Actor and director
- Member of Not In Our Name and Artists United to Win Without War
- Mentored by Norman Solomon, the Marxist founder of the Institute for Public accuracy
- Has spent huge sums on advertisements criticizing U.S. policies
- Admirer and friend of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez
Sean Penn is an “A-list” actor/director who is also an outspoken member of the leftwing Hollywood elite, an adamant critic of Republicans, and a staunch opponent of the war in Iraq.
Penn was born in August 1960 in Los Angeles County, California. His father, Leo Penn, was an actor and director, a supporter of the Hollywood trade unions, and an open communist. Leo was of Spanish descent, and the family’s original surname was “Piñón.” Sean Penn has one brother, Michael, who is a musician. A second brother, actor Chris Penn, died in 2006.
Sean Penn began his acting career in bit-parts on the Little House on the Prairie television series in the 1970s, and his first film role was in the 1981 film Taps. Since that time, Penn’s film projects have often mirrored his political views: In 1989 he starred in the anti-Vietnam war film Casualties of War; in 1996 he played a convicted killer on death row in the anti-capital punishment film Dead Man Walking; and in 2006 he starred in All the King’s Men, a fictionalized account of the radical populist Huey Long. He has received four "Best Actor" Oscar nominations, winning once in 2003 for his role in the film Mystic River.
Renowned for his violent temper, Penn in 1985 was involved in a brutal physical altercation with two British photographers, an incident for which he was fined $100 and given a suspended 90-day jail term. In 1987 he served a six-month jail term in connection with another assault conviction.
Penn has dated folk singer Jewel and actress Susan Sarandon, and in 1985 he married pop star Madonna. In 1989 Penn and Madonna divorced, and thereafter Penn began dating actress Robin Wright. The two married in 1996 and have two children.
Penn is a member of Not In Our Name (a "peace" front for C. Clark Kissinger's Revolutionary Communist Party) and Artists United to Win Without War. He is also an avid supporter of MoveOn.org. He has spent tens of thousands of dollars on advertisements criticizing the war in Iraq and U.S. foreign policy generally. In an ad that ran in the Washington Post on October 27, 2002, Penn wrote an “Open Letter to the President of the United States of America,” in which he said that the hallmarks of the Bush administration included “intolerance of debate,” “marginalization of your critics,” “the promoting of fear through unsubstantiated rhetoric,” the “manipulation of a quick comfort media,” and the “deconstruction of civil liberties.”
Penn’s Post advertisement led to the development of his friendship with Venezuela’s communist President Hugo Chávez, who has quoted from Penn’s writings in some of his televised speeches. In 2007, for instance, Chávez read aloud from a letter authored by Penn which denounced the War in Iraq and described President Bush and his administration as “villainously and criminally obscene people.” In August 2007, Penn met personally with Chávez in Caracas, Venezuela, where he was commended by the latter for having courageously advocated the impeachment of President Bush. Penn has called Chavez “a fascinating guy” who is “much more positive for Venezuela than he is negative.”
In December 2002, a few weeks after the publication of his aforementioned Washington Post ad, Penn made a much-publicized "fact-finding" visit to Baghdad with Medea Benjamin, founder of Global Exchange and International Occupation Watch. The purpose of the trip, which proved to be of great propaganda value to Saddam Hussein, was to speak out against the seemingly imminent U.S. invasion of Iraq. The trip was organized by the Institute for Public Accuracy, whose Marxist executive director, Norman Solomon, is Penn’s mentor.
In February 2003, Penn accused movie producer Stephen Bing of having fired him from the leading role in the fim Why Men Shouldn’t Marry because of Penn’s vocal opposition to the Iraq War. In Penn's estimation, Bing had taken a page “from the dark era of Hollywood blacklisting.” Penn filed a $10 million lawsuit against Bing.
In 2005 Penn made a visit to Iran, in the role of correspondent for the San Francisco Chronicle. He attended prayer ceremonies in Tehran and interviewed Iranian political leaders. In an article he wrote for the Chronicle, Penn commended Iran for remaining relatively unruffled by George W. Bush’s designation of that country as part of the “Axis of Evil.” He furthermore lauded Iran for complying with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NNPT), and warned that “[a]ny reckless action on the part of the United States or Israel may lead to Iran dropping out of the treaty.” Not long thereafter, Iran violated the NNPT by secretly pursuing uranium enrichment, a move that prompted the United Nations Security Council to pass a resolution ordering Iran to suspend its nuclear ambitions.
In 2007 Penn was a signatory to a letter to President Bush calling for the normalization of relations with Communist Cuba. The letter, which failed to reference those Cuban artists and dissidents who had been jailed by Fidel Castro’s oppressive regime, stated:
“We write to express our dismay at your [Bush] administration’s continuing hostility towards Cuba. We write to express our opposition to policies that keep us divided from our Cuban counterparts, preventing cultural interchange between our two countries.” Other signatories included such notables as Harry Belafonte, Danny Glover, Bonnie Raitt, Carlos Santana, Gore Vidal, and Alice Walker.
On January 7, 2006, Penn was a special guest at an “Out of Iraq Forum” hosted by the Progressive Democrats of America and held at the Service Employees International Union hall in Sacramento, California. The event was moderated by Bill Dursten, President of the Sacramento Chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility. It was attended by Cindy Sheehan, Norman Solomon, and some 200 additional activists, all calling for the immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq.
Also in 2006, Penn joined such luminaries as Ed Asner, Danny Glover, Cynthia McKinney, Willie Nelson, Susan Sarandon, and Lynn Woolsey, in staging a “Troops Home Fast” hunger strike to protest the Iraq War. The fast was performed in a relay fashion (i.e., each participant fasted for a day, then “passed” the effort to another "striker"). It was organized by Gold Star Families for Peace founder Cindy Sheehan and endorsed by Code Pink for Peace.
At Rep. Barbara Lee’s March 24, 2007 Town Hall Meeting in Oakland, California, Penn made a lengthy speech during which he impugned Bush administration members as “villainously and criminally obscene people” who exercised control over “the smarmy pundits in your pocket, those who bathe in the moisture of your soiled and bloodstained underwear.” "Without impeachment, justice cannot prevail," said Penn, announcing that he would support the presidential candidacy of Dennis Kucinich, "who has fought this war [in Iraq] from the beginning."
In October 2007, WorldNetDaily.com reported the following:
“Muslim terror leaders are hailing statements by actor Sean Penn regarding Iran, the war in Iraq and the global war on terror, stating militants have ‘deep respect’ for Penn and urging Americans to listen to the outspoken Hollywood activist immediately. One senior jihadist leader even asked Penn to officially represent his terror organization’s cause to the world media.
“‘I tell Penn that we don’t have the money that the Zionists have, therefore we don’t own and we don’t have access to your media, and we hope you would ... represent our pain and our cause,’ stated Abu Hamed, northern Gaza Strip commander of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades …
“Ala Senakreh, West Bank chief of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades terror group, stated he feels ‘deep respect for Penn and people like him that prove that America is not only the country that sponsors the Israeli terrorists and all evil forces in the world, but also a country of brave people who want a different policy based on justice and peace.’ …
“Ramadan Adassi, chief of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades in the northern West Bank Anskar refugee camp, said Penn’s words ‘express dignity, express a deep humanitarian sense and this doesn’t surprise me when it comes from an actor who has had to develop the sense of feeling. We hope Penn is somebody who can design a different public opinion.’”
On December 11, 2007, Penn reiterated his support for Congressman Dennis Kucinich for U.S. President in 2008, calling the Progressive Caucus member “the most deserving and noble of candidates.”
In October 2011, Penn appeared on CNN's "Piers Morgan Tonight" program and characterized the Tea Party as a racist movement seeking to "lynch" President Obama. "You have what I call the 'Get the N-Word Out of the White House Party,' the Tea Party, this kind of sensibility," said Penn.
In mid-February 2011, Penn was Hugo Chavez’s guest of honor, serving as keynote speaker at graduation ceremonies for Venezuela’s Salvador Allende Medical School. “Allow me to impart a little anecdote,” said Penn to the enchanted crowd. “I had the privilege to introduce my children to comandante Fidel Castro and as he posed for a photo between them I told him: ‘President, I’ll now be denounced in the U.S. for educating my children as socialist revolutionaries.’” Castro responded: “That’s among the best things that could happen to them.”
In December 2012, Penn traveled to Bolivia to attend a candlelight vigil for the health of the ailing Hugo Chavez. At the vigil, Penn said: “He’s one of the most important forces we’ve had on this planet, and I’ll wish him nothing but that great strength he has shown over and over again. I do it in love, and I do it in gratitude." When Chavez subsequently died on March 5, 2013, Penn said: "Today the people of the United States lost a friend it never knew it had. And poor people around the world lost a champion. I lost a friend I was blessed to have. My thoughts are with the family of President Chavez and the people of Venezuela."
Over the years, Penn has contributed money to the political campaigns of Barbara Boxer, John Edwards, and Dennis Kucinich.